Rural bank closures: Welsh MPs say branches are key to local economy

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Welsh MPs have led a debate in Parliament raising concerns about the impact of rural bank closures.

Both HSBC and Barclays have closed small rural banks in recent months, and NatWest plans to cut opening hours.

Brecon and Radnorshire MP Roger Williams, who was granted the debate, said banks were crucial to local economies.

Minister Chloe Smith told MPs the UK government could not intervene in banks' commercial decisions.

Mr Williams applied for the Westminster Hall debate after HSBC announced a branch in Presteigne, Powys, would shut in March.

HSBC closed six branches in Wales between last September and December, including Llandysul, Ceredigion, and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys.

'Most vulnerable'

Start Quote

When a bank is closed it is a death knell for that community”

End Quote Glyn Davies Montgomeryshire MP

It has now closed 17 "under-used" banks in Wales since 2009, but they have not all been in rural areas.

Mr Williams said the planned HSBC branch closure in Presteigne met a "huge response" from local people in the form of 500 signatures in a petition against the closure.

He called on the UK government to support trials of community banks, which is when a number of banks come together.

This, he said, would cut costs for individual banks but would provide a facility for the community.

Torfaen MP Paul Murphy raised the issue of internet and telephone banking, saying that very few people over 65 could use such facilities and he put forward the idea of mobile banking much like a mobile library service.

Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies said: "Financial services are a key part of life today - those people living in rural areas - especially those who are most vulnerable and can't access or aren't familiar with the internet - then they just don't have access to financial services.

"When a bank is closed it is a death knell for that community."

Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane said banks must "look again at the balance between profit and social responsibility".

Mr Ruane said that in the past bank managers had been pillars of the community who "knew about local businesses and knew if they were a sound investment. Local knowledge will lead to sound lending."

'Treat customers fairly'

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The government has been very clear about the need for a change in bonus culture and that they must support local businesses...”

End Quote Chloe Smith Treasury Minister

Last month, HSBC said the number of customers using the Presteigne branch had fallen significantly over the past few years and it was now "one of the most under-used branches in the country".

Elsewhere, Barclays closed a branch in Rhayader, Powys, last year, citing "declining customer numbers".

Meanwhile, a petition was launched in Whitland, Carmarthenshire, last December against plans to cut the opening hours of a NatWest branch to one day a week.

At the time, it was reported the bank was also planning to cut opening hours at branches in Llandysul, St Clears, Tenby and Tregaron, but will open an extra day a week in Narberth.

NatWest blames low customer numbers, but says no jobs will be lost.

Treasury Minister Chloe Smith said: "I must point out that whether and where to maintain branches is a commercial decision and as such is a matter for the financial service in question.

"The government does not intervene as a matter of principle."

She said "the government has been very clear about the need for a change in bonus culture and that they must support local businesses... banks have customers and they must treat their customers fairly when making their decisions."

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