By Daniel Hunter
The Forum of Private Business and the Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) are urging the Government to pressure the UK’s big banks to share local branches as a solution to spiralling bank closures.
Amid the furore surrounding the Project Merlin lending figures, both organisations are warning in that the impact of closures on communities and businesses is in danger of being overlooked. Since 1990, CCBS data shows that 7,555 banks — or 44% of local branches — have closed across the UK.
“Regardless of the Project Merlin lending targets there is a serious risk that the impact of the alarming decline in local bank branches is being missed,” said the Forum’s Chief Executive, Phil Orford.
“It is a race to the bottom and small businesses are reporting poor levels of service, often including difficulties even contacting their bank representatives, who can appear completely ignorant and uncaring about them.
“The Government should act without delay to address the situation and pressure banks to genuinely think locally and consider branch sharing as an option. It works in elsewhere so why not in the UK?
“Competition between banks is clearly important, but branch sharing shouldn’t be seen as an anathema to it — it is difficult to see how reducing local services can possibly make a business more competitive.”
According to the CCBS’s latest ‘Last Bank in Town’ analysis, 414 rural communities in the UK have just one bank left, with 190 of these completely unprotected by banks’ questionable ‘non closure’ pledges.
In addition, 466 urban communities now have a single branch to serve them. While many are within one mile of an alternative bank there is still widespread inconvenience caused to members of the public and local businesses — including retailers struggling as a result of declining footfall.
“Branches in vulnerable urban and rural communities are disappearing as the banks interpret government silence on the issue as a licence to escalate closures. A proven and cost-effective sharing model is available and action to implement is needed now before it is too late,” CCBS Director Derek French said.
The CCBS data shows that the number of rural ‘dual bank’ communities is down to 208. At present, 238 urban communities are served by just two banks, 106 of these being within a mile of an alternative bank.
While those qualifying as ‘last bank in town’ are currently protected to some degree by non closure pledges, the pressure to close in dual and multi bank communities, in order to avoid being last, has increased.
The Forum is lobbying for bank infrastructures to be improved as part of its Get Britain Trading Campaign. In addition, the not-for-profit employer organisation is calling for greater decentralisation and more local autonomy for branch managers to make lending decisions based on a wider range of risk criteria such as order books.
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