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Bank Branch Closures

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:54 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:54 pm, 18th March 2020

There is nothing wrong with being a socialist, by the way—I am letting you know that right now. I am not against the banks, but I get immensely frustrated when it seems that they make decisions in order to bring bigger dividends for their shareholders. I suspect that everyone who spoke and the shadow Minister will say the same thing, but to me it is simple: the wee man and wee woman need help, and they deserve to have their banks, yet it is all about the profit at the end of the year. Whenever banks are making a massive profit, in a way it is about getting more profit. Was it Jean Paul Getty who said that the only thing better than having £1 million is having another £1 million? Speaking about Jean Paul Getty probably ages me, but I am just making the point that banks focus only on their profit margin and how much they can make, not on delivering.

The hon. Members for Midlothian and for East Renfrewshire referred to online banking—I know that others will refer to it as well—but it does not suit everybody. I tried to help a number of customers of those banks to do online banking, but it was lost on them. I hope those people took their savings to the post office or the credit union, but I suspect that some did not, and I therefore fear money being stored under the blanket, the pillow or the mattress, or in some tin box somewhere, because those people want to be in control.

My wife’s auntie was in that situation. She had some money in the house, which we did not know about. One day she was out for only half an hour, but the thieves obviously knew, and they came in and stole her life savings—£8,500—which were probably to pay for her funeral. It is soul-destroying. The community came together to help as best they could. That happened to a couple of others in my constituency as well, and again the community reached deep into their pockets and made some of that money available.

I realise that time is flying. I was sitting here almost loth to speak, to again use the same words and rhetoric, because it is not stopping the closures. Then I realised that this is the place where changes need to take place. I have the utmost respect for the Minister, as he knows, but I urge him and his Department to give serious consideration to supporting those banks that support their local community. For Newtownards, that is the Danske Bank, the Ulster Bank—the one that is left—the Santander bank, which has filled some of the gap for some customers, and the Nationwide building society. Those are the last four banks in Newtownards. All pay rates and council tax, provide local employment and are all available for the vulnerable—for me, this debate is about the vulnerable; those who do not have access to banks—to open their first bank account or for those who want face-to-face advice, because we need that from the banks as well.

I ask the Minister what we can do to reward those banks that do right by local communities and keep an online thrust as well. I understand that some people want to go online. I am an old traditionalist; I will probably still write cheques for all my things every week, as I always do, and I will probably still carry cash in my wallet, because that is how I did it when I opened my first bank account at age 18. How can we encourage more banks to be part of local communities, instead of being removed and literally counting their pounds rolling in? I look to the Minister for guidance, because asking, reasoning and pleading with the banks is not working. Maybe rewarding community-minded banks is the way forward.