- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Assembly Member Joyce Watson has blasted HSBC’s decision to close a north Wales branch, branding it “misguided and unfair”.
The high street bank wrote to Harlech customers in September notifying them the town centre branch will close on Friday 4 December at 11.30am.
In a Senedd debate (14 October), the Labour Mid and West Wales AM claimed the closure will hit local businesses and residents who cannot easily access the internet or transport. She said:
“Customers’ accounts are being transferred to Porthmadog, a good 10 miles away, or there’s Barmouth, or Blaenau Ffestiniog, which is further away again.
“The fact is, in recent years, all of the major retail banks have been closing rural branches left, right and centre. HSBC alone in my region has pulled out of Llandysul, St Clears, Nefyn, Criccieth, Llandovery, St David’s, Llandeilo, I could go on.
“It is deeply misguided and unfair. It hits shops and other businesses, and it make life harder for people who don’t have access to the internet or their own transport.”
Mrs Watson said rural bank closures highlight the importance of other financial service providers like post offices and credit unions. All HSBC and first direct personal current account customers can now access their bank account at Post Office branches, so Harlech customers will still be able to withdraw and deposit cash and cheques, as well as make balance enquiries, at the nearby post office.
Joyce Watson AM continued:
“After the banking crisis and the bail-outs, you would have thought that big banks would have a greater sense of obligation to their customers, but apparently not. That is why the support the Welsh Government has given post offices in recent years has been vital. They are an anchor providing financial services to local businesses and residents, and since 2009, the post office diversification fund has helped hundreds of Welsh post offices get on a firm footing and invest for the future. Large numbers of those are in very rural areas.
“While I too often receive letters informing me of yet another bank branch closure, these days I rarely receive one about a post office closure. Likewise, credit unions. Tomorrow is International Credit Union Day, and like post offices, the Welsh Government has a proud record of supporting Wales’s 21 credit unions. We’ve invested £1.9 million in those over the last three years.”
HSBC has said Harlech branch staff can advise customers on alternative ways of banking, including training on telephone and internet services. It also stressed there will be no redundancies; staff will be redeployed to other branches.
According to the Campaign for Community Banking Services pressure group, around 650 UK bank branches will have closed this year. This follows 500 in 2014 and 222 in 2013. More than 1,200 British communities have lost all their banks in recent years, and hundreds more will do so in the next 5 years, the group reports.
From May 2015 an agreement between the banking industry and UK government, the Access to Banking Protocol, obliges banks to engage with communities on post closure provision. The agreement seeks to ensure customers still have banking services close at hand if a branch closes, often at post offices.
Joyce Watson is a member of the National Assembly for Wales committee for business and enterprise.