Local Bank Closures — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:14 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces) 3:14 pm, 12th June 2019

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan.

I want to draw Members’ attention to the county of Sutherland in the highlands, which is part of my constituency. Since 2005, eight branches have shut. With the recent announcement that the Clydesdale is going to shut its branch in Brora, we will be left with precisely one branch, the Bank of Scotland in Golspie, in a very large county of 2,028 square miles, with a population of some 13,500 who will have only one branch left. For some people that means a 150-mile round trip to get to the bank, if someone lives in Durness in the upper north-west—a three and a half hour bus journey for my constituents. And it gets worse. We have talked about post offices and how the banks say, “Go online or use the post office,” but Clydesdale bank seems to have conveniently forgotten that the post office in Brora has been shut for some time, making a complete mockery of that.

I and other Members have always said that the point of having a real branch is to have a human face behind the counter. Even if people can go online—not a lot can in my constituency—if someone has a big payment coming along but they do not know what it is, which can be a real worry for people, old and young, it would be better if they could go into a branch and see somebody who would say, “This is what it is,” or, “This is a scam.” That is why we want the human face, which is very hard to replace.

In my huge constituency, we are told to use mobile banks, but it is not awful funny going to a mobile bank in Wick if it is sleeting in January. The weather in good old Wick can sometimes be very inclement.

My contribution is short, but the matter of Sutherland serves the purpose of helping all Members here today, because it provides such an extreme example: one branch in a vast county of 2,028 square miles, which is astonishing. However, I give credit where it is due to the Minister. He has met and listened to a cross-party group of MPs, and I think he has taken the issue on board, but I say to him from the bottom of my heart that we have to get something together. Douglas Ross made a superb speech. This is about getting the hubs to work. Where there is a will, there is a way before us. If we could get those hubs to work together that would not solve the problem, but it would make things a heck of a lot easier, so I say to the Minister, “Go and bang the banks’ heads together. Tell them to get off their backsides and get the show on the road!”