Banks shutting in towns like Helmsley creates a second class of customer - Kevin Hollinrake

HELMSLEY must rank as one of the nation’s most picturesque and prosperous market towns, yet local residents must feel as if the very fabric of the community is falling apart in front of their eyes.

Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images.
Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images.

The dental surgery closed almost two years ago and has still not been replaced, bus services have been significantly reduced, the Bilsdale TV and radio mast burnt down in August and many locals still can’t access services.

The nearby local Star Inn at Harome also recently suffered a catastrophic fire and now, the last bank in the town, Barclays, is about to close permanently.

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These losses are more deeply felt in rural communities due to the high proportion of older residents and the relatively low levels of digital connectivity and skills.

There is an understandable irritation that tax burdens are being increased whilst services are decreasing – people are paying more and getting less.

Rural communities are also harder hit, of course, as big banks like Barclays can point to low footfall levels to support their case for closure.

This measure, of course, will always favour the urban over rural and create a second class of customer.

When the regional managers broke the news to me at a recent meeting, they pointed to all the mitigations they were going to put in place.

They are looking to open a counter in a local shop and instal a new ‘Smart ATM’ that also lets you open an account, deposit cash and checks and transfer funds.

They couldn’t say when these would be made available, of course, but were able to say exactly when the branch would close – February 25 2022.

Despite my strong protestations that these must be put in place before the branch closed, they wouldn’t budge, even when I mentioned that they made annual profits of around £8bn.

They pointed out that Barclays has a financial arrangement with the post office branches where business and personal customers can access a range of services and that there is a local ATM in the town.

I pointed back that the post office is now in the Costcutter where there are often large queues, and that the ATM is inside the shop so only available when it’s open.

I also pointed out that some banks are also considering working together and provide shared banking hubs so they can cut costs whilst still providing a local service, but this also met with a brick wall response.

I cannot be too hard on the regional managers, of course, they are merely the messengers and do understand that more and more of us do our banking online.

However, I think the attitude from the big bank bosses to their customers in their refusal to commit to implementing alternative solutions prior to closure is truly callous, appalling and unforgivable.

I am not alone.

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In addition, the Government legislated through the Financial Services Act 2021 to facilitate the widespread adoption of cashback without a purchase.

This may be too late for some. I was heartened by the very robust approach by our excellent Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman, who blasted the banks recently on Twitter when they closed the last branch in one of his local towns.

“Why don’t banks suspend all closings of the last bank unless a banking hub is opened?” he tweeted.

So say all of us.

Kevin Hollinrake is Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton.