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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There no longer seems to be any strategy among individual banks that would allow them to work out that closures affect not only their business, but many others. The more branches they close down, the more they will lose business, and other people will also lose business.

I am privileged to have quite an elderly population in my constituency, and that population is getting older all the time. Many country towns and rural towns in Devon are in the same interesting position, because people are getting older, and older people do not necessarily trust online banking. They like to be able to bank physically: going back to my previous comment, they like to see a person occasionally, not a machine. I am making light of these issues, but they are not really light, because so many of the older generation think that they can never see anybody or get an answer, and that everything is put in their way to stop them getting anything. We are working hard to get broadband and internet connection in rural areas—in particular, in the Blackdown hills in my area, around Axminster—but it is quite difficult. We will get there, but it is taking time.

I would like to see a strategy, not only from Santander but from all of the banks. Can we have a hub? Can we have something that actually works? Can we have a facility to which people can go? Banks might be prepared to let post offices do a certain number of transactions, but they do not like other banks doing them, yet they close their branches down. If they want to keep their competitiveness and—for want of a better way of putting it—their intellectual property rights, they should not close their branches and make it more difficult for the population to transact with them.

As I have said, I support this afternoon’s debate. It is quite difficult for the Minister, because he cannot say to banks, “You must put a branch there and keep it there.” However, what we must do as a Government, and what I ask the Minister to do, is ask the banks generally, “Do you have a policy that means that you look after people, get people into your branches, and create a business model that works and encourages people to bank at Santander, or any other bank that happens to be in a town?” I do not see anything at the moment that is proactive: everything is rather negative, and that is a great shame. It is our older population, in particular, that will suffer.

Businesses also suffer. I probably had too good a relationship with my local bank manager, because he probably lent me too much money, but a person should be able to actually see somebody and get a decision. If someone goes to a bank now, they will not see a manager: the decision will be passed up the line, and they may or may not get an answer. All of this is holding business back, not driving it forward. This is not just about customers, although it is very much about elderly customers: it is about business, and keeping the economy thriving. Those bank closures, and generally making it difficult to get answers about borrowing and other things that keep the economy stimulated, are real problems.

After that, Mr Davies, I feel much better. Thank you very much.