To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what steps he will take to reduce bank closures in rural areas.
5 September 2019
The Government recognises that the closure of bank branches is a very important issue for many people, particularly in rural communities. However, banking service providers need to balance customer interests and other commercial factors when considering their strategies. Although the Government understands the dissatisfaction, it is right that decisions on opening and closing branches are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis and the Government does not intervene in these decisions.
Government cannot reverse the changes in the market and in customer behaviour; nor can it determine firms’ commercial strategies in response to those changes. In 2018, two-thirds of UK adults used contactless payments, 72% used online banking and 48% used mobile banking, according to UK Finance. The Government is committed to ensuring that all areas of the UK benefit from world class digital connectivity, and we have invested heavily to meet that ambition. The £1.8bn superfast programme has ensured that 96% of the UK has access to download speeds of at least 24Mbps. For those premises that do not have access to download speeds of at least 10 Mbps, the Government have introduced the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which allows people to request a USO connection from the designated Universal Service provider, BT, from March 2020.
However, the Government still firmly believes that the impact of branch closures should be understood, considered, and mitigated where possible so that all customers, wherever they live, continue to have access to over-the-counter banking services if they wish to use them. That is why the Government is in full support of the voluntary Access to Banking Standard that the major high-street banks are signed up to. This commits them to keep customers well informed about branch closures, and to set out their reasons for closures and the alternative options for continued access to services. It is also why the Government supports the Post Office Banking Framework Agreement, which enables 99% of personal customers and 95% of small business customers to carry out their everyday banking at one of the Post Office’s 11,500 branches.