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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:14 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:14 pm, 14th February 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my fellow Instagram lover, David Linden, on securing this debate. We have more in common that just posting fun pictures.

Banks are a really important part of our communities. When they close they leave a hole not only in our high street, but in our community as well. The reasons for that have been stated to a considerable extend in this debate already. I am deeply concerned about Santander’s decision to close branches at the scale proposed. In the area that I represent, it intends to close the New George Street branch on 5 December this year, which is quite some Christmas present for local customers, and it is not good for the staff who will lose their jobs just before the festive season.

In Plymouth we like to think that we have a special connection with Santander because we are one of only two places in the country where you can actually get a ferry to Santander, so to see the closure of branches in Plymouth is deeply worrying, and what that means has not been lost on the good folk of Plymouth.

Who do we need to aim this debate at? The remarks made by Members of all parties have been focused on the banks, but I want to focus on the Government, because the banks have had a good kicking already and certainly my fellow Devon MP, Neil Parish, did a very good job of explaining why banks deserve a good kicking at times. However, we need to be cautious about what can be done to reverse the decline in branches on our high streets.

We need to make sure that people can access the services they need and that the personal touch is there, but I believe that there is something missing from this debate so far: consideration of the social purpose of banking. Banking has a financial purpose: it enables us to trade, to borrow, to invest, to save, but the social purpose is also important. It is about pooling risk, coming together, having access and being able to speak to someone to get advice on borrowing, investment and saving, and making sure we get the best financial products, but all that diminishes hugely when branches close.

I am a big fan of online banking and challenger banks. I really like my hot coral Monzo card. I like the way that I can access financial services online and in many cases get a better and faster service than I can get elsewhere—but I am not the same as everyone. We need a market within our financial services that recognises that online banking and quick dynamic services in the modern age need to sit alongside traditional high street banking that is fit for purpose. There is no better example of that than on Mutley Plain in Plymouth. I use Mutley Plain as an example because I know that the Minister was a Conservative candidate in Plymouth before he found his current seat, so he will know Mutley Plain well. When he was a candidate, Mutley Plain was full of banks. It now has hardly any banks. We have seen HSBC, Halifax, Lloyds, Barclays and NatWest all leave Mutley Plain, effectively leaving the entire community without banking services.

Not only has the community been left without the ability to access a cash machine or to get advice, but people have been left without the ability to go in and speak to someone. That is why we need to look at the importance of local banks and local services. The banks need to rediscover their social purpose. It is not sufficient to have social purpose in PR and marketing if it does not extend from the communications department through to the boardroom and the branches themselves.