Cllr Kevin Dixon, Battle Lib Dems
Banks are not charities. They have to make profits for shareholders and to protect staff and customers. But banks occupy a unique position of social and economic responsibility as was clearly demonstrated when the Government bailed out RBS/NatWest and LloydsTSB in 2008. RBS/NatWest was just hours away from complete collapse before the injection of £45.5 bn, little of which has yet been recouped. So RBS/NatWest in particular is morally as well as financially in debt to the community.
Battle is just one example of a community betrayed by banks abandoning the High Street. An acknowledged service centre for a large rural area, Battle first lost Barclays, quickly followed by HSBC. Last year Lloyds bailed out and earlier this year NatWest closed its doors. Earlier commitments that the ‘Last Bank in Town’ would not close, were quietly dropped, replaced by promises to consult with the community, which have proved to be a sham.
Much of the banks’ loss of business is self-inflicted. Many towns offer an array of mortgage and insurance brokers, foreign exchange bureaux, payday loans companies, safe deposits, all of which used to be services for which most customers would automatically turn to their bank. But scandals such as PPI and mortgage mis-selling combined with the removal of local managers able to take decisions have all diluted customer loyalty and footfall.
So how does a small town with no banks function? Online banking is fine for moving money about, but the real issue for High Streets is the supply and banking of cash. Businesses need to bank their takings and obtain change, and visitors need to withdraw cash to keep the local economy vibrant. Alternatives such as the Post Office and Nationwide are not geared up for large cash deposits particularly in coin.
One of the reasons NatWest used to excuse its closure was that the town centre had another ATM. Almost inevitably though this ATM had to be removed due to lease issues, leaving the centre bereft of cash facilities.
Major High Street banks, and particularly the publicly owned RBS/NatWest should not be allowed to just walk away from Battle, and countless other towns and communities across the country. Surely Government should have policies to protect basic services in vulnerable High Streets, especially in rural areas. Couldn’t banks work together for the good of communities to retain basic banking services? Could our MP have put more pressure on NatWest to help keep at least an ATM in Battle after I wrote to him in January alerting him to the impending problem?
Cllr Kathryn Field and I are actively pursuing possible options for return of an accessible ATM in the town centre but issues around leases, prohibitive business rates, space, and conservation area protections all render this difficult. We have called upon Rother to give urgent consideration to discretionary rate relief and to be supportive over planning permissions. Access to ATMs remains a significant factor in supporting our local communities and helping our local economy, and in the absence of banks, we look to our Local Authority to provide whatever support it can.