Local Bank Closures — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

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

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point with which I wholly agree. Like him, I have been involved with school closures as a local councillor, and they are not easy decisions to take. When we were proposing to close Cabrach Primary School in Moray, we had to have a full consultation, even though it had no pupils left at all—the final two, a brother and sister, had moved to another school. There has to be a full consultation with the community to close a school with no pupils, but a bank branch with so many customers that is so valuable to the local area can be closed when the bank comes in and ignores every view put to it.

My most abiding memory of Lloyds’s reaction to what it was doing in Lossiemouth and Keith was that it was not even willing to engage. I wrote to it when I quickly assembled the public meetings, which were attended by people from community councils, the post office and business associations. The meetings in Lossiemouth and Keith both had an empty chair for the bank; because it could not even be bothered to turn up and face the public about its decision, I thought it only right to show the public that it was absent by leaving a chair empty.

People wanted to challenge the figures about reducing footfall or the number of transactions. There were several people in the community who did not believe the figures that were put forward. The bank should have either substantiated its claims and stood up to support them, or gone back to the community and said, “This is where we were correct, and this is where you were correct.” That it was unwilling to do that demonstrates its whole attitude to this crisis.

The bank’s next response is, “Well, we’ll put in mobile banking.” A town the size of Lossiemouth, which has gone from four branches to none, now has a mobile bank coming for an hour or two a week. We have a great climate in Lossiemouth, but it is not always sunny and beautiful; it is sometimes cold and wet, and yet we expect elderly bank customers to stand outside and wait while others go in and carry out their business. There are also elements of privacy that a mobile banking service cannot replace. It is wrong that we should keep hearing, “We are closing your branch, but we will continue to have a presence.” That presence is pitiful, and it does not match the needs and aspirations of the community that uses it.

As I have mentioned before in Westminster Hall, in a debate about access to cash, RBS in Moray has a mobile branch van called the Moray Rambler. There have been so many closures of bank branches across the north-east of Scotland that the Moray Rambler now has to ramble into Banffshire and Aberdeenshire to cover areas outwith my constituency. Not only have we a poor service, but it is being stretched further and further and towns are getting less and less time with the mobile bank.

Post offices rightly have a role to play that we all value. Paul McBain represented the National Federation of SubPostmasters at my public meetings, and he did so well. Some tasks can be done at the post office instead of the bank, but some simply cannot be replicated: transferring money from an account, seeking advice about bank accounts, opening or closing accounts, registering a power of attorney or grant of probate, making complaints or inquiring about savings, current accounts, credit cards, mortgages, personal loans or investments. There is a role for the post office and there are tasks that it can do, but there are many that it simply cannot. It is wrong for the bank to say, “We’ll put in a mobile branch, or you can use the post office as an alternative.” It is not a like-for-like alternative; it is misleading and wrong to say so, and we will be in trouble if we go down that route.

Research into post office usage by Which? reveals that only 55% of adults are aware that they can use the post office for banking—almost half of the population do not know that—and that 47% are unlikely to use a post office for banking in the future. I hope that we can change those figures; as I said in an Adjournment debate in the main Chamber a couple of months ago, we need to encourage the public to use our post offices. However, many people out there do not want to use them for certain aspects of their banking needs. Some 42% of people did not want to go into a post office for banking because queues were too long, while 32% believed that they were not private enough.