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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:19 am on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 10:19 am, 21st May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra on securing the debate, and the Backbench Business Committee on facilitating it.

The banking situation has changed substantially over the past 20 years. Indeed, some of the traditional banks would say that the playing field is unfair as it stands. New incomers do not have the fixed asset responsibility of our traditional banks, yet they pick up none of the responsibility for the financial exclusion towards which we are seemingly heading. Work is needed to ensure that all those that benefit as new emergent banks are responsible for the traditional side of banking, which forms such an important part of our communities, particularly our high streets.

Scotland has suffered more bank closures than many areas. Over the last eight years, the number of branches has fallen from 1,625 to 1,015. Indeed, more than 400 have closed since just 2015. In East Lothian, virtually all our towns—Tranent, Prestonpans, Gullane, North Berwick and Dunbar—have suffered bank closures and changes to ATMs and branch opening hours.

We have heard about many important things, including credit unions and education, which has thankfully opened the space for the use of hubs, to which Kirstene Hair referred. The Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and Barclays have started business hubs in England. Companies that have large amounts of cash to deposit and want to transact business can go into such hubs and deal with them, irrespective of which bank is theirs.

Similarly, in Edinburgh and Glasgow an entrepreneurs’ hub has been formed, orientated towards new businesses. That model will work on our high streets. The challenge for banks is that, in essence, two separate software systems are operated. However, that can surely be overcome. The advantage of a hub, shared by branches, is that when someone goes in they are dealing with their bank. The challenge facing post offices is that often the employees on the other side of the counter, employed by the Post Office, do not have the banking experience or knowledge to deal with sometimes significant problems, and it is basically unfair to expect it of them.

Through legislation and Government and local authority work, the facilitation of hubs would allow people to continue to deal with their bank. The asset cost would be shared, and it would keep footfall on our high streets so that there is cash for our markets and for people who want to deal in it. Problems will be solved, and hopefully banking on our high streets will have a future.