Barclays becomes the latest bank to close rural branches

Barclays has announced it is to close at least 180 of its branches in the next 2 years, more than a third of its entire UK networks.

The news comes as analysis by Financial Times, based on data from ATM provider Link, shows that “a total of 636 bank branches are due to close by the end of this year, with 424 shut so far. Another 42 have already been announced for 2024.”

The Financial Times says that means “more than one in eight UK bank branches that were open at the start of 2023 will have closed by December, with almost three-fifths of the network vanishing since 2015.”

Sam Richardson, deputy editor of consumer rights magazine Which? Money told the paper:

“A closed bank branch doesn’t just mean one less place to withdraw or deposit cash locally.

“[It] also makes getting access to face-to-face banking services harder — something that is particularly important for more vulnerable customers.” 

The sparsity of local banks in rural areas was also recognised by MPs during a debate in the House of Commons last week.

Amy Callaghan (SNP, East Dunbartonshire) questioned the Government’s approach to accessing cash in our local communities.  Speaking at the debate, she said:

“the Tory Government have not stepped up anywhere near enough to support our communities and people who are struggling through the cost of living crisis. We need local bank branches. Hubs are an alternative, though they are not good enough… We would be lucky to have as many bank branches open in our constituencies as have closed in the recent years. At least 265 local branches are set to close this year alone, and 62 parliamentary constituencies are down to one or no local banks. The UK has lost over half its bank network since 2015, which speaks volumes after 13 years of Tory rule. How many more banks do we have to lose before the Minister kicks into gear?”

Ms Callaghan’s comments were reiterated by Richard Foord (LD, Tiverton & Honiton) whose constituency is one of the areas to lose its Barclays branch.  He told the Commons: “On the point about having lost over half the banks in the UK since 2015, I would like to go over the figures. Does the Hon. Lady recognise that over 5,700 branches have closed since 2015 or are set to close, leaving only 4,000, at a time when banks are pulling in record profits?”

Responding to the criticism, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Griffith denied his government was failing rural areas:

“Nothing could be further from the truth. This Government have, for the first time in history, legislated for citizens of this country, including our good friends in Scotland, to have a legal, statutory right to access to cash. Moreover, we have brought forward the practical, sustainable alternative of banking hubs, to protect the ability of communities to access a wider range of banking services. We have conducted agreements for almost every bank in the country and in Scotland to be able to conduct their business through the post office network, thereby helping and saving the post offices in the communities too.

“I think I have been clear. I understand that change is happening and people are not always comfortable with change. We are in the middle of a big technological shift. We all agree that people should have access to good-quality banking services. I contend that the Government are taking the appropriate action and taking this matter extremely seriously.”

Last month the RSN joined a coalition of businesses, charities and consumer groups to issue an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, urging for the protection of cash as a critical payment method for both consumers and businesses.

Printed in the Telegraph, the letter comes as the Government consults on its Future of Payments Review and the signatories of the letter called on the Treasury to ensure that cash remains part of the payments mix of the future, given its continued importance to the financially vulnerable, digitally excluded and small businesses.

Signatories acknowledge the Government's recent release of its cash access policy statement as a positive first step but emphasised that a more comprehensive effort is required to ensure the robust funding and safeguarding of the UK's cash network. You can read the full story here.


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