Force banks to keep a branch open in every UK town, MPs urge government

Bank customers use a cash machine. A committee of MPs has called for Minister to force banks to keep a branch open in every UK town.
Bank customers use a cash machine. A committee of MPs has called for Minister to force banks to keep a branch open in every UK town.
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A cross-party group of MPs has today called on Ministers to force banks to commit to keeping at least one local branch open in towns across the UK.

In a new report, Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee recommends introducing legislation if banks refuse to provide such a guarantee.

The committee has been holding an inquiry into access to financial services in Scotland and has previously issued warnings over the number of branch closures.

Read more: Five Yorkshire towns to get share of £1bn high street rescue fund

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This comes after The Yorkshire Post revealed earlier this year that up to 4 in 10 local bank branches across Yorkshire and the Humber have shut their doors since 2010.

According to official figures, over the past eight years banks in the region have shut 445 of their local units, the majority of which are local branches, reducing the number from 1125 to 680.

In today’s report, the MPs make further recommendations aimed at maintaining a bank branch in every town, including strengthening the regulation of bank branch closures, with public consultation ahead of any shutdown and publication of impact assessments for vulnerable groups.

It also focuses on preventing further loss of ATMs and suggests a strategy should be put in place by the UK Government on access to cash.

Commenting on the number of bank closures in Yorkshire, Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey said:“We have big business and big banks turning their back on small towns and large villages across South Yorkshire.

He added: “The banks are simply not interested in serving the communities that bailed them out ten years ago when the global financial crisis, that they caused, required the taxpayer to step in and underwrite their future.

“Government could and should take a tougher stance. What the government could do is put a halt on the closure of the last branch bank, area by area.

“They could also make the banks demonstrate that they have properly consulted and there is alternative access to banking services in the area before they close the last branch.”

Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP, said: “Last year, my committee demanded that RBS halt their march of bank branch closures, but since then the picture seems to have just deteriorated further - in 2018 in Scotland, 355 ATMs were shut down, and bank branches continue to close at an alarming rate.

“My committee is calling on the Government to stop banks from closing the last remaining bank branch in town.

“It is essential that towns are left with at least one bank, so if the banks won’t make this commitment themselves, the Government should consider legislating.”

The intervention comes on the back of a sustained campaign by The Yorkshire Post aimed at reviving struggling UK high streets.

The Love Your High Street initiative was launched last year in partnership with the papers sister titles, and revealed that more than 8,000 shops had closed over the last 18 months while tens of thousands of jobs had been lost and one in eight shop units were vacant.

A spokesman for UK Finance, which represents British banks, said: “Bank branches play an important role in the life of local communities and decisions to close them are never taken lightly.

"Research shows that consumers are increasingly choosing new ways to help them with their banking, using technology to check balances and make payments – or even speak to their bank 24/7. But technology is not for everyone and maintaining access to cash is vital to ensure no-one is left behind.

“Customers are now able to access everyday banking services at 11,500 Post Offices across the country, while banks continue to invest in the existing ATM network and services such as mobile branches to reach more rural communities.

“The industry has also committed to helping local communities identify and secure appropriate free access to cash for customers, and continues to work closely with the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group (JACS), government, Bank of England and regulators on this issue.”