I thank David Linden and the Back Bench Business Committee for enabling us to have this debate on a topic that is clearly vital to many communities.
We have heard some very good speeches today from Kirstene Hair, my hon. Friend Liz McInnes, the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), John Woodcock, my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), Dr Whitford and my hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney. That is quite a coalition, by any measure of parliamentary activity. Each of those speakers articulated very well the impact of bank branch closures—not just by Santander, but more widely—on their communities. Each speech raised several issues of public policy that I certainly agree need to be addressed.
The debate has shown that the challenge to maintain a banking sector that works for everyone at a time of rapid technological change is not being met and that the balance between digitalisation and traditional banking models is not being got right. I want to say a few words to concur with the sentiment in the room today, but also a little about some possible solutions to these problems.
In advance of the debate, Santander provided some statistics on how people use its services and how that has changed. It said it has experienced a decline of about a quarter in branch transactions over the past three years, including for branch ATMs. It went on to say that that trend is expected to continue, with a projected 37% decline in branch visits across the industry in five years’ time. That is an empirical case for branch closures. We understand that—it is based on numbers and projected future demand. Those numbers alone, however, do not tell us the real story of how people depend on some of those services.
Today we are here specifically to debate the impact on local communities, and to do that, I want to share with colleagues and with industry, which will listen to the debate, the experience of my constituents and what bank branch closures have meant for them. Thankfully, the Santander branch in Hyde is not earmarked for closure in this round, but in recent years my constituency has lost branches of RBS, Lloyds, HSBC and Yorkshire Bank. Yesterday, on my Facebook page, I asked my constituents to share with me some of their direct stories of what that has meant for them. The first comment was:
“Losing the Lloyds in Stalybridge has been a blow. Yes there is one in Ashton”— the town next door—
“and there is online banking. But there is no substitute for making an appointment you can walk to, talking to an actual human being.”
Another constituent, from Droylsden, which is just outside my constituency, said:
“Here…we now don’t have a single bank! We’ve gone from having Lloyds, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax to having none!!! Our infrastructure dwindles by the day.”
The problem is even more acute for colleagues in more rural constituencies.
For businesses as well as individuals branch closures have posed particular challenges. One business owner—an existing Santander customer—said:
“You can do banking at the Post Office but, in order to pay things in, you have to get in touch with your bank first and get paying in slips sent out. Santander would only send me 5 and I have run out now. It means that I can’t accept cheques for my business easily, and I don’t have time to keep ringing up for more paying in slips.”
Someone else said:
“It’s a killer for small businesses, who have to close their shops to go and stand in a queue for a lengthy period of time just to get change.”