IT is nearly three months since University of Sheffield graduate Luke Graham, now a backbench Tory MP, presented a common sense bill to Parliament to lessen the impact of bank branch closures on market towns and rural communities.
His measure would have made it a legal requirement for alternative provision to be set out. It would have given the Post Office new powers to offer banking services. And every closure would have required the bank to pay £100,000 into a community fund to regenerate local high streets and support small businesses.
What a shame, therefore, that it was not implemented before Santander – formerly Abbey National – announced the closure of 140 branches with the loss of 1,200 jobs.
A personal disaster for the staff concerned, it is another significant setback for affected communities as high streets fight for their future. When one branch shuts, every business on the same street potentially suffers from reduced footfall.
And here is the irony. Two of the 10 closures in Yorkshire are at Otley and Yeadon – branches that Santander customers were advised to use following the last round of cuts in their vicinity.
Yet, because they were not given resources to build up the personal banking and mortgage services on offer, more people have been forced to undertake their banking online or via call centres, Santander’s justification for this latest announcement.
Given how this decision penalises many elderly people, and all those who do not bank online, Ministers must heed Mr Graham’s research which confirmed that closures dampen lending growth to small and medium-sized enterprises by an average of 63 per cent in those postcodes that lose a bank branch.
He added: “The figure grows to 104 per cent in postcode areas that lose their last bank in town, where there is an average of £1.6m less lending as a result of that branch leaving town.”
As such, affected customers and businesses now expect the Government to put suitable safeguards in place before any future closures are proposed. If not, the credit rating of Ministers will fall further the red.