Bank closures, remain, and are likely to remain at least for the foreseeable future a simple sad fact of life for many communities across much of rural and not so rural Wales. The closures appear relentless and unstoppable, despite the fact that high street banks could and should have a roll to play within the economic life of our communities. We have been here before and will no doubt be back. It should be obvious by now that the big 4 banks don’t care about public opinion or the consequences of the closures on local communities.
|A bank closure notice|
There is a recognisable pattern to the process - local political and community leaders rightly kick off and are justifiably angry along with local residents who are often interviewed by local media. As part of this cycle we have the usual 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.
Dropping 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 elsewhere, by no less than 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.
More than 200 banks have shut in Wales since 2008, leaving towns such as Newcastle Emlyn, Hay-on-Wye and Llandovery (since 9th June), too name but a few towns, without any banks. The loss of small town banks is not confined to rural areas - it has been paralleled by the loss of suburban banks which have also quietly disappeared from local shopping centres in our cities and smaller valley towns.
Local banks remain useful 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.
Even where banks survive there is a visible trend to replace person centred banking with machine centred banking. In my bank - even if there is no cue customers are regularly referred to machines to pay in cash or cheques or withdraw cash before you get a chance to talk to cashiers. This trend which is also being mirrored in some of the larger supermarkets is not about giving customers a choice or and easier service it's about reducing staffing costs to a minimum - something that will cut jobs and the wage bill.
This situation has been further aggravated by the demise of many building societies, most by no means all of which were largely hoovered by the banks within a few years of them being floated. 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 off 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 relentless 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.
Once you factor in the ruthless Post Office closure programme that was pushed through by the then Labour Government, and continued by the former Con - Lib 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 as has been said before we need some sort of publically owned community owned Wales savings bank or Bank Cambria.