Local Bank Closures — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 12th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 2:30 pm, 12th June 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because that issue came up when I held a public meeting in Lossiemouth, following the announcement that the final branch in the town would close. The local football club, Lossiemouth F. C., said that it had checked with its insurers, who said that they would either increase the premium to a level that it could not afford or simply not insure it at all, because it would now not be able to deposit cash at the end of the night: the cash would have to remain on the premises. I hope the Minister addresses that issue, but we also have to put it to the insurers, because it is no fault of the football club or other operators in these towns that the banks are now closed and people cannot deposit money.

I want to return to Lossiemouth, a huge town in Moray, being left without cash this weekend. Denise Bedson of the Lossiemouth Business Association told The Press & Journal:

“The situation at the weekend was disgraceful. A lot of small businesses can’t afford card facilities. I know there are cheaper solutions but the phone signal isn’t always the best here for them to work properly. We’re trying to get more banking facilities here because the situation is very difficult”.

It was so difficult that there were reports of people going into the local store to buy one tin of baked beans just to get cash back. They had to buy something that they did not want or need, simply to get money from the store, because the cash machines were not working. Councillor James Allan, my colleague, who represents Heldon and Laich, has been a great local champion for this cause for years. We have gone from four banks and seven ATMs down to just two ATMs. In a community the size of Lossiemouth, that is simply unacceptable. This is just the first weekend. We have serious concerns that this will go on further.

Mention was made of tourism and tourist businesses. Lossiemouth is a great attraction for tourists, with whom it is very popular. We have takeaways and taxi firms, which do not accept credit cards or debit payments. They will suffer as a result of this. Lossiemouth Community Council and its councillors Mike Mulholland and Carolle Ralph have been highlighting the bank closures for some time; they also held a public meeting about them, following my meeting. The issue has been of considerable concern since the announcement was made last November. We knew that this was coming, but the banks have deserted Lossiemouth and other communities across Moray, Scotland and the UK. I believe that they have to do more about it.

While I am speaking about Lossiemouth, the area in Moray that is most affected because it has no branch left, I also want to mention post offices. They play a vital role, but there are some limitations. I know how hard Tony Rook, owner of the post office in Lossiemouth, and his staff are trying—as he commented in The Northern Scot this week, they are doing their level best—but when there is a spike in use and they are away for the weekend, there is nothing that they can do to put more money into their cash machine. He has one of the two cash machines in Lossiemouth. It costs his business to have it facing outwards to the street, but he does it as a public service. It is a great service, but even with great efforts from him and his staff, we were still left without money in a Moray town at the weekend. That is something that we need to look at.

It is not just Lossiemouth that has been affected. At the same time as the closure in Lossiemouth was announced, there was another in Keith. I held a public meeting there as well; I was grateful for the attendance of local councillor Donald Gatt, as well as Paul McBain, representing the post office, and Pearl Hamilton from the Federation of Small Businesses.

When we consider the impact of branch closures or the reduction of ATMs, we often think only about the customers who want to take money out, but the small businesses in our communities suffer just as much, if not more. FSB Scotland retweeted my tweets about today’s debate because it has great interest in the matter. Small businesses are losing not only the branch that they bank with and deposit their takings at, but the opportunity for people to take money out and spend it in their shops. They are the lifeblood of our local communities, so it is unfortunate and deeply reprehensible that they are being drawn into this.

I also want to speak about the bank’s response. I have to say that its contempt both for its own customers and for local communities is disgusting. As the local Member of Parliament, I got a phone call about the Bank of Scotland’s closures in Lossiemouth and Keith, days before it even wrote to its customers; I know my MSP colleague did, too. It came to the politicians to tell us, “This is what we are doing—oh, and by the way, we will tell our customers after the bank holiday weekend.” It thought that they could wait a few days before even bothering to tell its customers about news of such magnitude.

The banks get involved in the process that has been laid down to consult and inform communities of their decision, but they never change their mind. It is a fait accompli—they have decided what they are doing. When communities rightly stand up against these cuts and removals to express their concern about how deeply damaging they will be, the banks turn a deaf ear: they are not interested, and they do not want to hear it. I have to say that I think their behaviour shocking and unacceptable.