Although Parliament has now reached the summer recess the work for MPs of course goes on, with a range of constituency issues to tackle, and constituency events and meetings to attend. One such local issue here is Syston is Barclays’ very disappointing recent announcement that it plans to close our local branch in the autumn, hot on the heels of having done exactly the same thing in Thurmaston a couple of years ago, and now our busy town, with its vibrant shops, is seeing yet another bank branch close.
As on previous occasions the usual reasons will be cited: that people’s way of banking is changing, with more people preferring to bank online rather than in branch; that our excellent local Post Office can pick up the slack and provide banking counter services; that there are her branches in nearby villages or towns if people want to use them etc etc. But for me these arguments simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.
What may look logical as a cost-saving, re-organisation business case on a piece of paper in the bank’s head office will have a very real impact on individuals and businesses in our town, and in my view is quite simply the wrong decision. There are many small businesses and shops in Syston. What arrangements will be in place to ensure they can deposit and collect cash for their tills? What will be the impact on footfall in the town centre? It’s the loss of another cash point, so what are the banks going to do to ensure people can get cash at weekends or overnight without remaining cash points running out? There are a large number of elderly people, and others, who rely on the bank and may not have access to their own car. The bank’s solution? To highlight that there are bank branches nearby in Birstall. The reality? It may be nearby as the crow flies, but anyone who knows the local bus routes knows that the buses through Syston don’t go directly to Birstall. It is also disappointing that, while Barclays cited a 17% fall in transactions at the branch over the past 24 months in their correspondence setting out their plans, they have now written to me to correct this, stating that actually over the two year period the branch had seen an increase in transactions, leading me to wonder which other aspects of their case for closing the branch are simply wrong?
It may be true that more and more people prefer to bank online, but there are still a large number who wish, or need, to use a branch for business, to get cash out, or simply because, as a customer of the bank, that’s how they wish to do their banking. While banks are private businesses, and there is no legal power to prevent them closing branches as a business decision if they wish to do so, I believe it is a short-sighted decision on their part, and that they have a broader responsibility to their customers and the communities they serve.
Although I cannot compel Barclays to change its mind in Syston, I will strongly oppose this proposal, and have called Barclays directors to meet with me local later in the summer to hear first-hand the reasons for my, and local peoples’, strong opposition to what the plan to do. I will be making clear to them that I think they have got it wrong, and that they should think again and withdraw their badly thought-out proposals to close our important local branch.