In our relentless march for progress, many in this country have been left behind and feel forgotten. From the farmers of Somerset and the fishermen of the North Sea to our former industrial cities and forlorn seaside resorts. Their call for help was most clearly manifested in the EU Referendum last June, when these places voted en masse for Britain to leave the European Union. Yet it would seem that their call has not been heard.
Not only does the political establishment squabble over the outcome of last year’s vote and seek to undermine the democratic mandate set by the people of forgotten Britain, but the technological revolution that is driving growth in cities like London and Manchester continues to cause repercussions to be felt in our rural communities.
The latest casualty of the tech revolution is the rural bank branch. In the past week Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Yorkshire Building Society have all announced plans to shut multiple branches, at the cost of hundreds of jobs. Royal Bank of Scotland says they will be shutting 197 NatWest branches and 62 RBS branches, resulting in around 680 job losses. Their reason is that more and more people are using online banking, rendering physical bank branches redundant.
It is the rural communities and Victorian industrial and resort towns that are going to suffer the consequences of this decision the most. Not only do they already have the fewest banks per square mile, but they also have higher numbers of retirees and the elderly, many of whom don’t have smart phones and internet banking.
It is the rural communities and Victorian industrial and resort towns that are going to suffer the consequences of this decision the most. Not only do they already have the fewest banks per square mile, but they also have higher numbers of retirees and the elderly, many of whom don’t have smart phones and internet banking. In addition, despite a government pledge to roll out 4G and decent broadband to rural communities, this promise has yet to be realised.
The BBC ran a case study yesterday on the Welsh town of Llandysul, entitled ‘The “ghost” town with no banks’. Once a thriving market town at the heart of the wool industry, Barclays was the last bank to close its branch just three weeks ago. They interviewed an 83-year old lady called Rose Ainsworth, who now faces a two-hour round walk to collect her pension from the relocated post office, or a half hour bus journey to the nearest bank. She doesn’t own a computer, so is unable to use internet banking.
Bank closures do not only affect people directly. They also leave a black hole in the local economy. People who plan shopping trips often do so while also planning a trip to the bank to discuss financial affairs, withdraw money and deposit cheques. When banks close, people relocate their shopping destinations in line with wherever the nearest banks are. This leads to shop closures, and the downward spiral continues.
Unite was quick to condemn the planned closures, mainly due to concerns over job losses. But banks also have a moral obligation to look after their customers and their communities. This means being accessible not only to only to the tech-savvy and internet-friendly people of our cities but also to those who don’t have the same digital accessibility. It may make financial sense to close them, but social responsibility appears to have been overlooked. Rural communities are crying for help, but their cries are falling on deaf ears.