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The ATM Industry Association has warned that one fifth of Scotland’s free ATMs will start to charge consumers in the next year. That can be seen only as a cynical move to force us to become a cashless society. Picking up what has been touched on by my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, for East Renfrewshire, and for Midlothian, and the hon. Member for Strangford, bank closures have, as we now know—the game is up—been a tool to force people to bank online. As banks have quietly cut the fees that they are willing to pay machine operators to provide bank customers with access to cash, they are forcing us to go cashless and online. Banks are attempting to put pressure on customers who do not act in a way that they—the banks—find convenient. What happened to the customer being king?
Going cashless and banking online may, as we have heard, be the preferred option for some—and good luck to them—but some of us do not want to go down that route, and increasingly aggressive efforts are being made for it to happen, at breakneck speed. I and those of my constituents who do not favour those options will not be forced to bank online. We will not be bullied into doing so or into going cashless. It is a rum do when the service provider is bullying the customer—because that is how it feels. In any case, even among customers who may be interested in banking online there are some who simply are not able to, for a variety of reasons that the Minister will understand, and of which the hon. Member for Strangford reminded us.
I have corresponded with the Treasury about online banking in the past, and it accepted that broadband access is not yet good enough for everyone to rely on digital banking. The Government and the access to banking standard must ensure that banks have a social responsibility to provide banking facilities to all our towns. Such services could be provided relatively easily through the wide rolling-out of banking hubs. Indeed, I met the Minister in his constituency to discuss that very issue last year. I am hoping—I am quite excited about it—that he will be able to update me on progress with that. I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but I cannot see any discernible obstacle to the option except for perhaps a lack of political will and, indeed, the arrogance and intransigence of the banking industry.
Our communities and constituents deserve better than they have had up to this point. Banks have to face up to their social responsibilities, get their heads together and create banking hubs in our towns, across the board. There is no real impediment to that, and I urge the Minister to use his good offices to bang some banking heads together and ensure that customers’ voices are heard. The Government have a role to play when the last bank in town is closed. They have said repeatedly that those are commercial decisions, but it is not just a commercial matter. It is about social responsibility and financial inclusion. I urge the Minister to reflect further on the strong feelings and concerns that have been expressed today. Will he finally bring forward legislative proposals to ensure that banks live up to their responsibilities to our communities?