Rural Banking Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 20th July 2021.

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Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 11:00 am, 20th July 2021

I certainly agree that it is wrong for banks to withdraw when there are no options left. We need to be really careful. I have worked with and spoken to a number of them in preparation for this debate, and I implore them to remember that we do need physical banking services. We cannot just push them down the line or rely on a certain urban area.

On that point, it has just been announced that Barclays bank in my constituency, in Llandrindod Wells, is about to close. From my office in Llandod, I can see the number of people who use that bank every day, and I am quite surprised that the decision is going ahead. I understand it is too late to influence that, but I make the plea none the less. It will cause considerable problems for people in my constituency: those who live in Knighton or Presteigne, or further north. I again remind the House that it is the largest constituency in England and Wales.

As much as this decision causes a headache for personal banking, businesses will also suffer. It is crucial that we recognise the value of these rural businesses. Farmers rely on good relationships with their banks, for obvious reasons. It is often said that nobody knows how to spend money better than a farmer, and it is really important that we remember how that money gets filtered out right through the rural community. One farmer sustains hundreds of businesses in a rural area, including the vet, the insurance agent, the feed merchant and the contractors that he will work with, so remembering that rural businesses need access to banking infrastructure is so important. I urge the Minister to put some real teeth behind the proposal in the consultation for a right to withdraw cash, again remembering that point about mileage. Some of my constituents who used to rely on Barclays bank in Llandrindod Wells are now going to need to travel 20 or 30 miles to get cash to pay their bills, or to give a grandchild their birthday money, so that right is absolutely essential.

The final point I will make is about the importance of banks to the high street, because nobody just pops to the bank as a one-off transaction: they pop into the post office, go into the butcher or go for a coffee. Banks are important parts of a thriving high street—again, I stress the importance of a high street to rural areas, particularly in Brecon and Radnorshire, where we do not have large urban conurbations or city centres. Our high streets are the lifeblood of the rural economy, and it is incredibly important that as we move towards a purely digital platform, we remember the need for face-to-face contact. If the pandemic has demonstrated anything over the past 18 months, it is that we all need and cherish human interaction, and it is incredibly important that we remember the impact that closures like these can have on mental health. Again, I think of the farmers in my constituency who take their cattle to market and then, while they are in Brecon market, go to the high street and into the bank. This is part of an important rural chain, and when one link goes, so goes the rest of it.

I really want the Government to think about the impact that these closures can have. Obviously, we cannot control the commercial decisions that the retail banks make, but I believe we should be doing all we can to preserve rural communities, remembering that rural banking services are so crucial. We talk a lot in this place about levelling up, and rightly so, but there can be no levelling up if we forget rural areas. I urge the Minister to think about that.