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Banking Services: Access

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

The Government believe that all customers should have appropriate access to banking services, which is why we have legislated to protect access to cash. We also support the FCA’s bank branch closure guidance as well as industry initiatives to provide in-person access, including shared banking hubs at post offices, and access via digital means.

More than 5,000 bank branches have closed since 2015. Sadly, the Lloyds bank in Withington village will join the many more branches closing in the coming months and leave Withington without a bank branch, but by the end of the year the industry will have delivered only 30 shared banking hubs. Does the Minister think that the pace and scale of that roll-out is good enough?

First, it is worth stating that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the decisions on whether to open or close branches are commercial ones, and the Government do not interfere with that. However, we have legislated to protect access for cash. The banks need to abide by the Financial Conduct Authority’s guidance, with the latest guidance published only last week. In relation to shared banking hubs, we should indeed increase the pace at which they are rolled out, and I am talking with the industry about how to do that.

It is pretty clear that most legacy banks do not give a stuff about their customers and just want to screw as much money out of people as possible. After the scandal of Coutts’s debanking of Nigel Farage, the Government acted swiftly to try to make that much more difficult for other customers, but many businesses face the same problem. What will the Government do to stop businesses being debanked in the same way as individuals?

I am not sure that I quite accept my hon. Friend’s characterisation of the banking industry, but I am happy to meet him and discuss the problems he outlined in relation to specific businesses and access to bank accounts.

Before I ask my question, I want to convey the apologies of the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). She is delivering the eulogy at Alistair Darling’s funeral today.

I want to say a few words about Alistair Darling—I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker—a dedicated public servant, who was respected across both Houses. He led the country’s economic response to the global financial crisis with integrity, honesty and sound judgment, and we will all miss him. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) just said, nearly 6,000 bank branches have closed since 2015, and only 30 banking hubs are up and fully running. That has left countless people financially excluded and affected lots of small businesses. I ask the Minister once again: will he accelerate the roll-out of banking hubs properly? Why are his Government not doing anything to reverse the decline of the great British high street?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s words about Lord Darling and echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

On bank branches, I will repeat my position: it is important that the Government do not decide when a branch opens and when it closes, but it is a concern when communities are left without appropriate access to cash. That is why we were the first Government to legislate for access to cash, as we did earlier this year, and that is why I believe we should speed up the roll-out of banking hubs. I am working with the industry on ways in which we can do that.

If the Minister is serious about protecting the future of the great British high street, will he back Labour’s pledge, which has been welcomed by Cash Access UK and the wider sector, to guarantee face-to-face banking in every community and give the FCA the powers it needs to roll out hundreds of banking hubs across the country?

As the hon. Lady knows, the industry leads the roll-out of banking hubs. We are supporting it—I say this again—to speed that up as much as possible. I have not seen the Labour pledge—I suspect that I will not support it—but it is important that the industry hears the views of constituents and Members from across the House and that we speed up the roll-out of banking hubs in communities that need them.