Financial Exclusion: Access to Cash — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:01 am on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 10:01 am, 21st May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also the chair or vice-chair of various all-party parliamentary groups that are pertinent to this debate and discussion. I congratulate Seema Malhotra on securing this debate on a hugely important issue that needs greater consideration than it has had in this place. The issue affects us all, as we have outlined already, and I am sure Members will continue to do so.

In my part of the world, our local newspaper the Derbyshire Times reported only last week that the number of ATMs available in my constituency has reduced by 20% over the past couple of years, from 137 to 111. We have had the usual bank branch closures and changes. We lost another branch in Dronfield just a few months ago. That was the Royal Bank of Scotland. We have lost our Lloyds branch in Clay Cross, and we continue to see reductions in ATMs and the like.

We have to deal with those challenges, however, rather than just moaning about them. There is a conundrum in front of us. People’s habits are changing, as is how people want to bank. The numbers of people going into bank branches and using cash are decreasing. Cash is now being used in three in 10 transactions—10 years ago, it was six in 10—and that number will reduce further. We have to find a way to balance the challenges that have been rightly articulated by Members this morning with recognising that we cannot and will not stop progress.

We also have to recognise that there is a cost to the provision of cash. That cost may not be obvious to consumers, but it is built into the infrastructure and the costs of financial services already. Essentially, we are dealing with a classic long-tail problem. We have early adopters. The majority of the market and a majority of consumers can deal with this issue and are happy to do so, but we rightly identify a group of vulnerable people and customers who we need to ensure are supported. Those consumers live in my constituency, as they do in everyone else’s.

In the brief time I have available, I will make a couple of points and a couple of suggestions for things to consider or where it might be useful for the debate to go next. We should be careful about explicit legislation, but I agree that there may be a case for it in certain places. We should celebrate, as the hon. Lady outlined, alternative forms of saving and lending, such as credit unions, which I am personally very supportive of. If there is an argument for legislating, it may be around equalising the premium in accessing cash and the poverty premium that goes on top for vulnerable people in accessing various things. We should foster competition and celebrate those institutions and building societies, such as Metro Bank, that are expanding their networks. We should also look at how we expand the number of bank accounts available for people.