Lanarkshire MP calls for immediate action on latest bank closures

Anum Qaisar highlighted the reducing number of banks in her constituency as she led a Westminster debate and is calling for an independent body to assess the impact of high street closures.

The Airdrie & Shotts MP spoke of the impact of branch closures on older people, those without transport or online access, plus small businesses, charities and town centres themselves.

She was prompted to lead the debate following January’s closure of the Virgin Money branch in Airdrie, leaving the town with only two financial institutions – only to see it followed by this week’s announcement of the forthcoming closure of the Bank of Scotland branch in Shotts.

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Ms Qaisar described the topic of her adjournment debate – which also took place on the day HSBC announced 69 closures across the UK – as “so important and so topical”.

The MP told how four banks in Airdrie have closed in the past six years, leaving only Bank of Scotland and Nationwide serving the town; while the newly-announced Shotts closure will be the town’s third since 2015.

She spoke of concerns about the development of “banking ghost towns” and said: “With only a handful of banks on our high streets, now is the time for government intervention – the issues my constituents are facing will affect people in all four nations.

“Banks tell us that the decision to close a branch is driven by customer behaviour and demand, but I would argue that banks are pushing this change.

“The government should consider introducing an independent body to conduct assessments, including of the impact on a local community, before a bank closes; such a localised assessment could ensure that decisions are reflective of the needs of the community.

“Face-to-face banking must not be lost – the stark reality is that branch closures deny vulnerable communities their right to independent living, [and] affect around 20 per cent of small businesses.”

Ms Qaisar added of the issues for Airdrie & Shotts residents: “My constituency is centrally located; there is therefore an assumption that my constituents can travel around easily, so if a local service such as a bank closes, they can simply hop on a bus. That is not the case.

“Virgin Money in Airdrie closed its doors in January [and] my constituents were told that they could travel to the nearest branch in Baillieston – that is either 20 minutes by car or a bus journey of an hour.

“[Those] who do not live in Airdrie town centre have considerable journeys to make; that poses additional barriers to those who are either financially vulnerable or struggling with mobility.”

She also praised a digital skills project involving older people living at Lorne Gardens retirement complex in Salsburgh but added that the “mass exodus of banks from our high streets poses huge concerns for those who are not digitally literate, have no access to technology or are simply uncomfortable with the transition away from cash.

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Airdrie & Shotts MP Anum Qaisar

“We are not necessarily talking about people from an older demographic – more than eight million people would struggle directly as a consequence of a cashless society and cash is therefore essential to ensuring that vulnerable groups such as older people or low-income households, who often have limited access to digital banking, are not excluded.”

Ms Qaisar’s debate was supported by fellow Lanarkshire MPs, including Angela Crawley of Lanark & Hamilton East who spoke about the impact on rural communities, and Marion Fellows of Motherwell & Wishaw who raised the issue of access to cash.

She added following this week’s announcement: “Less than a week after holding a debate on bank closures and questioning a Treasury minister, I’m incredibly disappointed that Bank of Scotland have announced the closure of the Shotts branch.

“I have requested an urgent meeting with bank officials to discuss the closure; I encourage those impacted to email me and I will raise your concerns.

“Neil Gray MSP and I will be working closely together as access to banking facilities is vital for Shotts and surrounding villages.”

Financial secretary to the treasury Lucy Frazer responded in the adjournment debate: “The way that consumers engage and interact with their banks is changing. The Financial Conduct Authority has set out its expectations of firms when deciding whether to reduce their physical branches or free ATMs; [they] are expected to carefully consider the impact of a planned closure on their customers’ everyday banking and cash needs.

“As well as the innovations around mobile and online banking, there are alternative options to access services via telephone banking and also, importantly, via the Post Office [which] plays a significant role in servicing people’s everyday banking needs.

“Last year, the government consulted on proposals for new laws to make sure people need to travel only a reasonable distance to pay in or take out cash, and will set out next steps in due course. It is right that the impact of branch closures on people and communities is understood so that everyone continues to have access to the services they need.”

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