Gordon Lindhurst: Let’s think outside the box on bank closures

Businesses and charities that need to deposit cash or arrange till floats require easy access to a bank branch. Picture: John Devlin
Businesses and charities that need to deposit cash or arrange till floats require easy access to a bank branch. Picture: John Devlin
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Branch closures, branch closures, branch closures. It has become an unfortunate but familiar theme.

Edinburgh has suffered a huge number of them, with some 60 per cent of banks disappearing since 2010. The increasingly rapid pace at which the closures have been happening has become a major issue.

Gordon Lindhurst is a Conservative MSP for the Lothian region

Gordon Lindhurst is a Conservative MSP for the Lothian region

Across West Lothian, some of the main banks have as little as two branches left.

I have experienced local frustration first-hand in places such as Juniper Green, where the last branch closed for good last summer.

Vulnerable people, such as the elderly and disabled, have been left to travel miles to their nearest branch in order to access services. Businesses and charities that need to deposit cash or arrange till floats are having to do likewise.

The rate and impact of change has become a national talking point, raised recently at Holyrood and Westminster as the latest round of culls were announced.

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee in the Scottish Parliament has decided to look more closely at the consequences and possible solutions through an inquiry.

Contributions to this are invited, either in writing to the committee or online by Friday, April 13 at www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/107960.aspx.

What is clear is that thinking “outside the box” will be required. We need a pragmatic approach that understands and accepts that society, technology and the way we do things nowadays has changed.

But at the same time we must recognise that the needs for some services face to face has not and will not change, including those specifically needed by potentially vulnerable members of our communities.

The advent of technology has rapidly altered our world, resulting in many customers banking online.

We cannot turn back the clock, even if we wished to. Neither can the banks.

But diving head first into a world of universal faceless online banking, ignoring whole sections of society, is not the answer.

Regulation could potentially be introduced to force the banks to ensure an adequate banking provision for every geographical area in the country, whether on a shared or individual basis.

Banks, after all, are not really just private businesses. The deposit guarantee scheme run by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme may be currently funded by a levy, but the reality is that the banks in the scheme are underwritten by the taxpayer, as seen during the recent banking crisis, when the UK Government intervened to prevent failure of banks such as RBS.

It is therefore disappointing that the same banks appear to have failed to respond to the need for face to face banking and offer solutions themselves.

Flexible forms of banking for the future must not be limited to the internet option. Just one idea – where the last bank in town is facing closure, could the banks not agree a sensible shared provision of banking of some form to avoid this?

No longer four or five different banks in a town as historically, but at least one branch from one of the main banks in a given geographical area.

Or share a banking hub building, with running cost of buildings shared between banks, each occupying their own counters at which customers can speak to someone.

Another option – mobile banking – has tended to be seen for use in rural areas. Could banks extend real use across the country in areas where branches have been lost?

Finally, the Post Office provides excellent services but more needs to be done, and supported by the main banks, to broaden those services where they are expected to make up for lack of other banks.

I look forward to discussing these options in the coming weeks and to hearing from you if you have been affected by branch closures.

Gordon Lindhurst is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian region