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

My hon. Friend makes the point that hubs have been created before and there should be no blockage. However, the banks seem unable or unwilling to move forward on the issue, and perhaps the Minister can use either a carrot or a stick to encourage them to do a little more.

I will end by putting some points to the Minister and asking him some questions, and then I will allow others to contribute to this debate. I was interested to read a report from July 2018 by the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, which was chaired by my colleague Gordon Lindhurst. The report contained a number of key points, including that there will be an indefinite ongoing need for cash and universal face-to-face banking provision; that the access to banking standard, with its post-closure-decision consultation, is failing and a binding pre-decision consultation is needed; and that there is a need for the UK Government to research the issue properly and come up with binding statutory and regulatory conclusions.

I know that the Minister listened intently and understood the concerns of Scottish Members when he addressed this issue at the Scottish Affairs Committee this morning. I hope that, with some of the asks from me and other Members, the UK Government can make some progress on this issue.

I hope that the Minister will look at the access to banking standard and toughen it up, because some banks are not part of it. As I said when I read out communications from a constituent and others, there are concerns that banks are not adhering to the standard. I also hope that he will engage with the banks about banking hubs; the banks have too easily written off that suggestion rather than engaging properly on it. Although I accept that there are commercial reasons why banks choose to leave towns, I hope that the Minister will accept that the situation is different when a bank branch is the last to leave a town or village, and that that has a far greater impact than earlier closures.

To conclude, there has already been a devastating reduction in the number of branches across Moray, across Scotland and across the UK. We almost always lose ATMs at the same time, and therefore access to cash as well. We need to reverse that trend. Banks can improve their image—it is not always the most positive—by listening to communities and working with them, and not by simply leaving towns and villages. To date, I do not believe that the Government have done enough. We can also improve our image on this issue by working with communities and ensuring that they retain the banking presence and bank branches that they so greatly need.