The petition of the constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran,
Declares that there is an urgent need to tackle the exodus of high street banks from North Ayrshire; expresses extreme concern about the recent decision by TSB Bank to close its branches in Kilbirnie, Largs and Saltcoats; notes that seven of the ten towns in the constituency of North Ayrshire & Arran – namely West Kilbride, Dalry, Ardrossan, Stevenston, Beith, and now Kilbirnie are now without any high street bank, making it one of the worst hit constituencies in the UK for bank branch closures; declares that many high street businesses are adversely impacted by bank branch closures, as they face increased insurance costs without local access to night safes to deposit cash at the end of the business day; further declares that local communities, particularly elderly and disabled residents who are more likely to face digital exclusion, will suffer because of these decisions which increasingly force consumers to bank online; and further expresses deep disappointment that customers feel they have no choice but to accept online banking, however reluctantly or endure lengthy journeys in order to effectively manage their money.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the UK Government to work in partnership with the banking industry to deliver banking hubs for communities to ensure financial inclusion for all.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patricia Gibson, Official Report, Tuesday 3 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 285.]
Observation from The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen):
The Government thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for submitting a petition opposing a bank branch closure on behalf of her constituents.
The Government are sorry to hear of her constituents’ disappointment at the planned closure of the TSB branches in Kilbirnie, Largs and Saltcoats. The way consumers interact with their banking is changing. In recent years, two-thirds of UK adults have used contactless payments, 72% have used online banking and 48% have used mobile banking, according to UK Finance. The Government cannot reverse the changes in the market and in customer behaviour; nor can they determine firms’ commercial strategies in response to those changes. Having the flexibility to respond to changes in the market is what makes the UK’s financial services sector one of the most competitive and productive in the world, and the Government want to protect that.
As with other banking service providers, TSB needs to balance customer interests, market competition, and other commercial factors when considering its strategy. Although I can understand the constituents’ dissatisfaction, decisions on opening and closing branches are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis. The Government hope hon. Members can appreciate that it would be inappropriate for the Government to intervene in these decisions.
However, the Government firmly believe that the impact of branch closures should be understood, considered, and mitigated where possible so that all customers, wherever they live, continue to have access to over the counter banking services.
As the hon. Member may know, the major high street banks signed up to the Access to Banking Standard in May 2017, which commits them to ensure customers are well informed about branch closures, the bank’s reasons for closure and options for continued access to banking services. Alternative options for access might include the Post Office which allows 95% of business and 99% of personal banking customers to carry out their everyday banking at 11,500 post office branches in the UK.
In September 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published guidance setting out its expectation of firms when they are deciding to reduce the number of physical branches or the number of free-to-use ATMs. Firms are expected to carefully consider the impact of a planned closure on their customers’ everyday banking and cash access needs, and other relevant branch services and consider possible alternative access arrangements. This will ensure the implementation of closure decisions is done in a way that treats customers fairly.
The petition requests that the Government work in partnership with the banking industry to delivery banking hubs for communities to ensure financial inclusion for all. While banks do have to comply with competition law, there is no specific regulation that prevents them from sharing branches or other premises where their interests require. The Government do not intervene in these commercial decisions, but will continue to encourage banks to think creatively about how they can ensure that consumers can access a wide range of banking services on a sustainable basis.
The Government note the concern for constituents who face digital exclusion. The Government understand that to have a world-leading digital economy we must ensure that as many people as possible can reap the benefits of being online and the technologies that can transform our lives, benefit society and drive prosperity and growth. There are a number of organisations that can help the elderly navigate the online world:
The online centres network, which is made up of over 5,000 organisations based at the heart of hyper-local communities, all working together to tackle digital and social exclusion by providing people with the skills and confidence they need to access digital technology. Constituents can find their local online centre at: https://www.onlinecentresnetwork.org/ournetwork/ find-centre#/map
Age UK also provides help with technology and the internet, and has guides to help people stay safe online and to make the most of the internet. Age UK provide training courses which explain things without technical jargon to get people online. To access these services, constituents can call the Age UK advice line on 0800 055 6112. More information on how to find help is available at: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/services/
The Government cannot intervene in firms’ commercial strategies in response to changes in the market. However, the Government understand that access to physical banking continues to be important to many communities and will continue to work with industry, the Post Office and the FCA to ensure everyone continues to have access to essential banking services.