Labour candidate Elliot Nathan is calling on businesses, local councillors and banks to ‘think outside the box’ now that yet another bank is due to disappear from Otley’s town centre. Bank giant Santander has just announced widespread branch closures, with the loss of 1270 jobs, and Otley is one of the branches to be axed in May this year.
Santander will be the fifth bank to disappear from Otley in the past few years. Four– TSB, HSBC, Nat West, and Barclays – have closed, while Halifax has recently removed its counter service and now only has self-service machines.
“Repeated bank closures have a long term knock-on effect on the town centre. Local businesses have to make alternative arrangements for regular transactions, such as paying in cash or getting change. Local bank employees lose their jobs, so families have less to spend. Customers who don’t use internet banking will maybe go to Harrogate, Ilkley or Leeds branches to bank, and will tend to shop there instead. That all reduces local footfall for other Otley businesses, and creates more car journeys and traffic congestion.”
Otley Post Office acts as an ‘agent’, offering paying in and cash withdrawal services for a range of banks, but the business banking services available at the Post Office varies between banks. Some business customers can only pay in cheques, others can only pay in cash. Some can get change from the Post office, while other business banking customers can’t.
“Banks are closing because more and more people are using internet banking” says Elliot, “but that means people who don’t have access to or know how to use the internet are left out in the cold. Many older people prefer a face-to-face service with a real person, and Otley has a higher than average older population.”
The consumer group Which? estimates around 2,900 branches have closed in three years, despite the government introducing an ‘Access to Banking Protocol’ in 2015, intended to encourage banks to consider the impact on local communities before closing.
“Banks close branches for commercial reasons, and the Conservative government has clearly said it won’t intervene, but it’s rural and less well-off communities that are hardest hit,” says Elliot. “In the long term, I’m pleased that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has pledged that a Labour government would make changes to bank law that will prevent banks forcing through closures which damage local communities and small businesses. But that doesn’t help us here and now!”
Elliot is clear there are no simple solutions but he is calling on businesses, local councillors and banks to think hard and creatively about measures that can help customers who are losing services they value.
“You can’t put the internet banking genie back in the the bottle, so we need to look at measures that fill the gaps the banks are leaving. Could there be more local support for people wanting to learn how to use internet banking? What about cash machines in areas where access to cash is difficult, such as north of the river in Otley? Or local help for people who want to switch banks? And local information about services offered by credit unions and mutual societies, which are banking services that are owned by their customers, not by shareholders? I’d welcome a debate on what we can do locally to help bank customers who can’t or don’t want to use the internet.”
Contact Elliot Nathan with your views at ElliotforOtleyandYeadon@gmail.com
Here’s more information about bank closures
https://www.postoffice.co.uk/branch-business-banking Services the PO offers varies widely from one bank to another
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44483304Banks close 2,900 branches in three years says Which
https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN00385Bank Branch Closures and info on Access to Banking Protocol