Santander Closures and Local Communities — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:35 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 2:35 pm, 14th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I thank David Linden for securing the debate.

I want to speak first about Santander in particular and then I will have a general go at the banks, because I will feel much better when I have done that. Being a farmer, I have always had very mixed views about banks, one way or the other. They can offer someone an umbrella when the sun is shining, but they are very good at taking it away when it starts to rain.

On Santander in particular, I have had a letter from the Axminster branch—in fact, it is interesting, because I have not actually had it from the Axminster branch but from the “Head of Branch Interactions”, which is one of my points. The letter says that the Axminster branch will close on 2 May, which is a great shame for the staff, a great shame for people in Axminster and a great shame for the businesses there; naturally, Axminster is famous for its carpets, but there are also Axminster Tools and Machinery, and many other businesses. There are also lots of surrounding farms and businesses in lots of villages, with lots of people coming in to Axminster. There is no sort of local manager in Axminster; there is no local anything, is there, anymore? That is partly the trouble.

What I have been sent about the reasons why Santander is shutting the branch is quite interesting. First of all, the letter says that

“89% of customers transacting at Axminster branch already use a variety of ways to complete their banking”.

That is an interesting way to run a business, is it not? Santander is actually saying to people, “Well, because you haven’t done all your business with us, we’re going to close the branch down.” I mean, I do not think that supermarkets or anybody else would go in for that line of business.

The letter also says that

“38% of Axminster branch customers also use an additional Santander branch.”

I might occasionally visit Sainsbury’s, I might occasionally visit Tesco—I occasionally visit a number of supermarkets, in a number of towns and in a number of places, but I would not necessarily expect to hear, “Well, because you’re a loyal customer to Sainsbury’s all over the country, I’m going to shut that branch down, because you’ve used another one.” Again, the logic is somewhat odd.

Then the letter goes on to say that

“54% of customers have transacted using our Online, Mobile or Telephone Banking services”.

That is great, but of course what banks have done—have they not?—is to make it more difficult for customers to get cheque books, or anything physical from them, and therefore they drive more and more people online. When people have gone online, they say, “Well, that’s great. You’ve all gone online now, so we’ll close the branch.” This is happening everywhere and although I am having a particular go at Santander today, it is a general malaise in the banking system.