Bank closures, are a fact of life for many communities across much of rural and urban Wales – this is despite the fact that high street banks have a roll to play within the economic life of our communities. The local political and community leaders will rightly kick off and justifiably angry local residents will be interviewed. There will be weasel words from the bank themselves, but, once the initial fuss settles the closure will roll on – as the large London based banks are pretty much answerable to no one save themselves – certainly not anyone here in Cymru / Wales.
Last November (11th) 2016 Lloyd’s quietly announced that branches in Abertillery (Blaenau Gwent), Crickhowel (Powys), Llandovery (Carmarthenshire), Canton (Cardiff), Pontarddulais (Swansea), Tregaron (Ceridigion) along with banks in Newport, Milford Haven and Mountain Ash were to be closed between March and April 2017. The reason, according to Lloyd’s is the changing way that customers do their banking.
In January 11th 2016 HSBC announced that branches in Ruabon, Chirk, Amlwch and Menai Bridge will close in April. Back in June 2015 Natwest announced its plans to close 11 branches in north Wales in September (St Asaph, Denbigh, Corwen and Llangollen in Denbighshire, as will the branches in Abersoch, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tywyn in Gwynedd and those in Abergele and Rhos-on-Sea in Conwy, Buckley in Flintshire and Rossett in Wrexham).
The BBC (back in July 2016) noted that more than 600 bank branches have closed across the UK over the previous year, with rural areas worst affected and that parts of Wales, Scotland and south west England lost the most per population between April 2015 and April 2016. The figures obtained revealed that five of the top 10 areas losing banks are in Wales: Powys, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Carmarthenshire. The data revealed by BBC Breakfast - came from the big six High Street banks: Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC, Santander, Barclays and the Co-operative.
At the end of October 2014 Lloyd’s announced that it would close 150 branches (7% of its 2,250 branches) and shed some 9,000 jobs (the bank has incidentally already shed 43,000 jobs since the largely bank driven financial crash back in 2008). In October 2014, Vince Cable, the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills stated that he was going to write to UK banks to demanding that the banks commit to keeping ‘the last branch in town’ open. Sadly was probably a little late as a growing number of communities in Wales, which already have no bank (28 as of December 2015), and the forty-seven which only have one bank, as noted by the Campaign for Community Banking Services.
The problem of closing banks affects all parts of Wales, while it is more readily identifiable in rural communities; also affects our urban communities as well – inconveniencing both personal and business customers. Bank closures proportionally hit older people harder as they may have problems with access to regular public transport. Age Cymru also noted that having a local bank that was convenient for older people was "vital" for ensuring they did not become socially isolated and that older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures.
More locally in Newport we had the stealth-like closure of local high street banks - Caerleon’s HSBC branch in Backhall Street (closed on 2nd November 2012) – despite a campaign to save the small town’s only bank from closure, which had gained the support of hundreds of people who signed a petition against the closure. HSBC had already closed the next nearest branch to Caerleon, on Caerleon Road, in St Julian’s (which was closed June 2011) – so much of listening to their customers.
While Lloyds in 2011/2012 was in the frame for a raft of closures, HSBC had already systematically closed branches across much of Wales - Presteigne, (which closed on Friday 9th March 2012) despite over 500 people signing a petition against the closure), and Blaenafon, in Torfaen (which closed on the 11th May 2012) despite over a 1,000 people signed a petition against the closure of what was literally the last bank in the town). The excuse was that both banks had seen a significant decline in the numbers of customers using their services and the branches were no longer commercially viable.
Campaigners against bank closures rightly claim that businesses in an area where a bank closes suffer and that residents (especially the elderly) who are reliant on public transport to bank in a nearby town are disadvantaged. Just for the record HSBC had closed six branches in Wales between September 2010 and December 2011, including Llandysul, Ceredigion, and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys.
The company has closed 17 "under-used" banks in Wales (since 2009) in both urban and rural areas. HSBC, Barclays and the rest have been quietly closing small rural banks in recent years, and NatWest and Barclays have also reduced bank-opening hours. The British Bankers' Association says more customers now go on-line and banks must examine branch-running costs.
Ditching the the spin (about the growth in on-line banking and it’s use – if you have no choice what else are people going to do) this is about nothing more than cutting running costs, the banks have little (or no concern) for their relatively unprofitable personal customers or the concerns of their local business customers or our smaller communities. As has been noted by the US Senate, some banks have other more pressing interests than those of their domestic customers like helping to launder money for drug dealers, dictators and terrorists, so much for being a local bank.
Local banks are good for the high street and local communities, they help to promote vitality and vibrancy and make it easier for local businesses to operate. Local businesses to a degree benefit from the existence of local high street branches by picking up passing trade from bank customers. Once local bank branches close, the impact will be felt locally especially by older residents and local business owners who have to trek further and further to pay in their taking and the subsequent drop in passing trade – this situation has been aggravated by the demise of many building societies.
It is perhaps a pity that we don’t have some sort of risk free Post Office Savings bank – save for the fact that it was recklessly sold of by a previous Conservative government on the cheap. That said, it is of course important to remember that one result of the demise of the regional banks was the rise of the big 4 banks which led to the growth of the reckless casino banking and cheap credit that brought about the financial crash.
When you factor in the ruthless Post Office closure programme that was pushed through by the then Labour Government, the then Con - Dem coalition government prior to it’s privatisation of the Post Office which in turn was preceded by the rapid floatation and rapid demise of most of our building societies you can clearly see how we got here - sorting the mess out is not going to be easy – perhaps we need some sort of publically owned community owned Wales savings bank.