In my latest column for the Ham & High I’ve written about the importance of protecting our high street banks. Since I wrote it, the Government have announced in the Queen’s Speech that they will (finally) be bringing forward access to cash legislation. About time. But no mention of face-to-face banking, which local businesses, many elderly & vulnerable people rely on.
Read my column here, or below, on why this matters.
“The news that Barclays Bank in Muswell Hill is under threat of closure is a real blow for our high street, our small businesses and for people’s access to cash. On my website at www.catherinewest.org.uk you can sign the petition I’ll be presenting to Parliament urging bosses to think again.
We’ve already lost too many banks locally, and nationally at least 50 bank branches have closed each month since 2015. Bank bosses shrug their shoulders, say that more people bank online these days and point customers to another branch. But that isn’t good enough. Bank profits are soaring, and the sector needs to show some social responsibility for the communities they serve and for their workforces, not abandon their high street presence and leave people behind in their rush to hand mega-bonuses to shareholders.
Millions of people still bank in-person and I’ve been chatting to local businesses who’ve told me what bank closures mean to them. They want to accept cash because many customers, particularly elderly and disabled people, prefer it, but if they can’t deposit it safely they’ll feel pushed into going cashless. That’s disastrous for the 8 million adults who would struggle to cope in a cashless society, particularly the 1.9 million people who rely on cash for nearly every transaction they make. At the same time we’re seeing many free-to-use ATMs disappear or turn into pay-to-use ones, charging people in some of the most deprived communities just to access their own cash.
It’s a national scandal made worse by Government inaction, despite the Tories promising two years ago to deliver legislation to protect cash access. I’ve written to urge the Chancellor to act now as the flow of bank closures turns into a torrent. During the second half of 2021, closures averaged at a staggering 99 a month. I share the concerns of campaign group Which that action will come too late if there isn’t an immediate pause on bank branch closures until legislation kicks in to protect our fragile cash network.
One resident who wrote to me in despair after Barclays’ announcement, said he used to use their Highgate branch. When that closed, they sent him to Hampstead, then Temple Fortune, then Muswell Hill. Now that’s going they’re telling him to use Crouch End. Where does this end? It shows a complete disregard for customers’ needs and a lack of appreciation of the value of knowledgeable branch staff and a friendly face.
Two years of lockdowns and hours hanging on the line to call centres have brought home to so many of us the value of our precious high streets. Face-to-face banking allows elderly people to maintain their independence and small businesses to thrive. The Government must act now to protect it.”