Bank branches are vital for many people, and we must preserve access to banking for local communities across our country. I share local concerns regarding the impact that closures of branches could have, particularly in areas such as Fylde, with our large rural population.
It should be highlighted that decisions on the opening or closing of individual bank branches are taken by each bank on a commercial basis, without intervention from the Government, although I have spoken with colleagues about how we can best protect over-the-counter services.
It is vital that all customers, wherever they live, can still access over-the-counter services. I am glad the Government is supporting the Post Office’s relationship with the banks. An agreement enables 99 per cent of banks’ personal customers, and 95 per cent of banks’ business customers, to withdraw cash, deposit cash and cheques, and make balance enquiries at a Post Office counter across a network of 11,500 branches. I am pleased that Post Office and UK Finance are working together to increase publicity of Post Office banking services and ensure more customers can benefit from them.
I welcomed the announcement in July 2020 of the establishment of a Joint Authorities Cash Strategy (JACS) Group which brings together representatives of our key financial regulators to provide joined-up and comprehensive oversight of the UK's cash infrastructure. The JACS Group places a particular emphasis on user needs and the changing nature of cash usage. Following this announcement, in September 2020, the FCA published guidance setting out expectation that firms should consider the impact of branch and ATM closures on their customers’ everyday banking needs and consider the availability and provision of alternatives.
I strongly welcome that the Government also legislated in the Financial Services Act 2021 to facilitate the wide-spread adoption of cashback without a purchase. Further work is ongoing to prepare future legislation designed to protect access to cash and ensuring that the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable for the long term.
I have also been encouraged to see the Government update its proposals to see cashback offered at shops without consumers having to make a purchase in addition to the Financial Conduct Authority made ultimately responsible for ensuring the cash system works for consumers and businesses.
I will continue to speak to colleagues to win support for the industry’s Access to Banking Standard, which commits banks to ensure personal and business customers are better informed about branch closures and the reasons for closing them. The standard also helps customers to understand the options they have locally to continue to access banking services.