Judy Terry is a marketing professional who stood down as a councillor in May 2014.
Local authorities spend millions of pounds a year on ‘economic development’, with questionable outcomes.
Evidence of job creation directly resulting from their efforts is scarce. The first realisation of business activity usually arises as a result of a planning application, or a news story about an organisation rationalising its operations…
This is the case when it comes to the current bank closures in towns across the country, leaving whole populations without access to their bank or a cash machine. Jobs are also lost.
According to a leaked report, more than 500 branches (Lloyds, Co-op, Barclays, HSBC, NatWest) are due to close, with customers being given three months’ notice, despite pledges to the Business Secretary that banks would protect the last branches in rural areas. Instead, once the commercial decision to close has been taken, they will ‘work with local stakeholders to understand the potential impact’.
We all know what that means – the decision has been taken and we will stick to it; if consultation had come first, there is at least a chance that someone would listen. However unlikely that may sound. When I challenged Barclays about closing the last branch in a small Suffolk town, I received what I can only describe as a patronising response which virtually told me to mind my own business.
Such arrogance is confirmed by the British Bankers’ Association CEO, who said that ‘online and telephone banking meant that most customers had better access to lenders than ever before…..banks are drawing up guidelines to ensure that there are adequate services in place’.
Yet they fail to understand that not everyone has access to a computer for online banking, nor is everyone actually sufficiently computer literate to keep themselves safe from hacking and fraud.
Sadly, although banks evidently care so little about their customers these days, they remain the principal source for somewhere to hold our salaries, pensions, and to handle our direct debits. The hole in the wall is also the prime source of ready cash – to pay the window cleaner/gardener/cleaner (with receipts, of course) and for day to day odds and ends, including a beer in the local pub – if you still have one (the proposed new planning regulations are a debate for another day).
There is also the question of what happens to large amounts of cash, which is the bread and butter of independent small businesses, which are the lifeblood of so many High Streets.
In this day and age, no-one wants to leave cash in premises overnight, not even in a safe (which would be an unacceptable additional expenditure for SMEs and would have a negative impact on insurance premiums) so if they can’t take it to a secure local bank, it will have to be transported elsewhere, leaving the carrier vulnerable to crime (and insurance rises). Of course, they could contract with one of the security firms to collect/deliver – at a cost which would undoubtedly be financially unviable, even in partnership with other businesses.
Yet, despite all these inevitable consequences for communities, and local businesses, local authorities remain largely silent. Isn’t it time, they actually did something?
Could credit unions be the answer? Many are already forming large consortia successfully offering a broad range of services, with a focus on the customer and his/her needs.
So, firstly, working together and with Government, local authorities could require all the banks to join together to set up a fund to support credit unions to manage some essential services, in partnership with post offices, where they remain open, and enabling them to take over the freeholds or leases of a bank’s premises, if necessary, thus avoiding the problem of increasing the number of empty units in already struggling High Streets.
Monies from the fund should be allocated on a proportional basis – subject to the provision of appropriate business cases submitted by credit unions – through the LEPs, to keep the banks fund central costs to an absolute minimum.
As Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? Magazine said, ‘banks can’t just turn their backs on consumers when the last branch in town closes. It’s vital that suitable, accessible, banking services are maintained that meet the needs of local communities’. Oh yes they can – and they are.
Are you listening, council leaders? You need to act before it’s too late, and your local economies suffer because of your tardiness in rising to the challenge.