The UK has an extensive and internationally enviable free ATM network. We know that many people still use cash day to day, and we have committed to safeguarding cash for those who need it. I am delighted that UK Finance and LINK are leading industry efforts to protect free cash access. That culminated in UK Finance launching the Community Access to Cash initiative just yesterday.
The Minister says that, but news that NoteMachine is to convert 3,000 of its 7,000 free-to-use cash machines to pay-to-use machines is of great concern to my constituents. According to Which?, we have lost 15% of our free-to-use ATMs over the past year alone. The previous Labour Government formed an agreement with ATM operators and the Treasury to plug gaps in financially deprived areas where people had to pay to access their cash, so what are this Government going to do to prevent people being charged just for trying to access their own money?
Use of cash has reduced significantly faster than expected over the past 10 years. I am meeting UK Finance and LINK tomorrow to ensure that their mechanism is good for the current situation. The new initiative to which I referred in my previous response will give communities up and down the country the opportunity to engage with UK Finance on better and new solutions.
We will hear from a Devon knight, I think. Sir Gary Streeter.
Is not the closure of ATMs linked to the decision by high street banks to close their branches left, right and centre? Will the Minister, in his regular meetings with the chief executives of high street banks, remind them that they do have some duty to elderly customers and small businesses?
I do that regularly. We are also trying to ensure that the transfer of responsibility to the Post Office runs smoothly, because 99% of people live within 1 mile of a post office, so it is a very good alternative for the vast majority of their banking services.
Hull’s high street is still very cash-reliant, and I am really worried about the blow that this reduction will give to an already struggling high street. Will the Economic Secretary please speak directly to the Payment Systems Regulator about what further measures can be taken to prevent the reduction in free-to-access cash machines?
Yes, I am very happy to continue to engage with the regulator, and I noted the hon. Lady’s urgent question application earlier today. Digital payment alternatives improve local cash recycling and support cashback initiatives. Mastercard and Visa have a number of initiatives under way, and I am determined to see progress in this area.
With a third of banks, many of which had ATMs, closing in rural areas, and with very poor mobile connectivity in those areas meaning that digital payment schemes are not possible, I was very pleased to learn of yesterday’s announcement by UK Finance on Community Access to Cash, to which the Economic Secretary referred. That is the way forward, but what can he do to reassure business providers that if they provide ATMs, they will be safe from break-in?
We have to ensure that there is a wide range of options in rural areas. A number of trials are under way to provide solutions, underpinned by the investment in gigabit infrastructure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced yesterday, which will ensure that we have even better connectivity in remote rural areas.