Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for ‘creative thinking’ to maintain banking facilities in rural towns and villages through the Post Office network.
Speaking in a Commons debate about community bank closures on Thursday (8 February), Mr Herbert joined MPs from all sides of the House in making the case for retaining banking facilities for local communities.
The MP acknowledged the ‘march of technology’ and the huge growth in customers who now use online banking services. He also recognised the commercial need for some bank branches to close because of unsustainably low footfall, saying that it was unrealistic “to look backwards and think that we can somehow set a retail banking model in aspic.” Instead creative and innovative solutions were needed.
Mr Herbert said that local post office branches could provide banking facilities in smaller communities. The MP highlighted a new deal which the Post Office network has in place with Lloyds Bank. This enables basic banking services within post office branches and is currently available to 99 per cent of individual customers and 95 per cent of business customers.
However, the MP warned that the post office network must be maintained if they are to become local banking hubs. This, he said, would be a “great opportunity” for the post offices, and a useful way to realise the investment made in the network. Mr Herbert met the former small business minister and senior managers in the Post Office in October to discuss this potential.
Concluding his speech, he called for more “creative thinking” and stressed that banks must not be allowed to step away from their responsibilities. He said the
Government had a role to play, by stepping in where the market was not working properly, and this sat with its objective to maintain the vibrancy of high streets. He called for banks to “step up to the plate” to ensure that universal banking services could still be provided.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, said that the Government could not reverse market movements or customer behaviour, or intervene in the banks’ commercial decisions. But he committed to “continue to work to ensure that everyone, wherever they live, can access the banking services they need.”
The Minister said that he had written to the Post Office and UK Finance to impress upon them the importance of developing detailed joint proposals to achieve these objectives. He said that the proposals should include a “shared vision for public awareness of the banking services available at the Post Office”, together with a framework, specific actions and a timetable to achieve it.