It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and I congratulate Douglas Ross on securing this extremely important debate.
This is not the first time that I have spoken in this Chamber on this subject area. Last Thursday, we discussed a Treasury Committee report; Anneliese Dodds, who is the Labour spokesperson this afternoon, also attended that debate. The issue cuts across two Government Departments and I hope that they will soon get their heads together and sort it out.
As has been said, Scotland has lost more than a third of its bank and building society branches in the last eight years. New analysis from Which? shows that 610 branches in Scotland closed between 2010 and 2018, and Santander’s recent decision to close 15 branches in Scotland will have a devastating impact on staff and local firms.
As we have heard, communities are devastated when local bank services close, and when the last bank goes it can have an unacceptable effect on local communities. In its report, the Treasury Committee said that
“there are still large sections of society who rely on bank branches to carry out their banking needs.”
As the hon. Member for Moray said, it is not only the elderly who need cash; everyone seems to need cash at some point during the week. If they cannot access it, there are real problems, and there is a deleterious effect on our local high streets and our local businesses.
The UK Government must step in and act; they can no longer argue that they cannot intervene. They made a similar argument about Royal Bank of Scotland closing branches, but we now know that the Treasury thought that it was okay to force RBS to pull finance from customers through the asset protection scheme.
The view of the Treasury Committee is that
“the Government should make changes to competition law to allow banks to share facilities in order to maintain a sustainable branch network” and that
which is extremely important. We need people to be able to access cash. Perhaps we need the Lending Standards Board to be involved in this as well, to increase transparency and the potential for external scrutiny over branch closures. It could publish examples of non-compliance when people do not do the right thing through their annual reports.
Post offices are a subject in which I have taken a great deal of interest; I secured a backbench business debate on the sustainability of the post office network. Post offices have lifted a heavy burden when banks in their vicinity have closed. One sub-postmaster in my constituency told me that because of the closure of local banks, he was now having to work extremely hard simply counting cash, and he worked out that in one week his take-home pay was £1.37 an hour. I am aware that Post Office Ltd has increased the rates it pays sub-postmasters, but that increase will not come into effect until October of this year. It is extremely important for local authorities, communities and businesses that where the last bank closes, the Government do what they should be doing: supporting banks through banking hubs, charging banks to use those hubs and using any other means that they can find to do a good job and keep cash going in local economies.