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Committee demands pledge

MPs want law to stop towns being left without banks

Aberfeldy bank branch closure

Closed: Aberfeldy branch of RBS (pic: Terry Murden)

Banks should ensure they retain at least one branch in every town, says a committee of MPs.

The Scottish Affairs Committee wants the UK government to seek a voluntary commitment from the banks which have closed 610 branches in Scotland alone in the past eight years, a third of the total.

If the banks fail to provide such a guarantee the Commons committee has recommended that there should be legislation. MPs have also expressed concern at the loss of ATMs and suggest a strategy should be put in place by the UK Government on access to cash.

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.”

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.”

Andrew McRae, from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “Losing a local bank branch makes it more difficult to run a business in an area, as well as leaving another ugly gap on a high street.

“MPs are right to underline the impact of the withdrawal of the banks on people and businesses. Swift action is now needed from policymakers to defend our remaining local financial infrastructure; to bring empty premises back to use; and to oversee the deployment of alternative facilities for left-behind places.

“The Scottish Affairs Committee is right to argue for action – including legislation – to retain our remaining local banks, as well as our cash-machine network. However, the big banks have shrugged off these sorts of reports before. This time must be different.”

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