Video: My speech in the Plaid Cymru debate on banking

“It’s quite clear that there is a pattern developing, and several Members have referred to it already—this pattern of centralising in a number of regional hubs, and what’s happening on Anglesey is an excellent example of this. On Anglesey, with the exception of Holy Island, it’s only in Llangefni that there will be any full-time bank open at all. Barclays is open part-time in Amlwch, but Holyhead, as the main populated area of Anglesey, has also heard recently that they will be losing their HSBC branch. So, there’s a pattern developing here. The announcements that we’ve heard recently are: closing NatWest in Amlwch, in Holyhead, in Beaumaris and in Menai Bridge, and HSBC going in Holyhead, in Amlwch, in Menai Bridge and Beaumaris recently. It’s not just the banks either, but financial institutions more widely—Yorkshire Building Society in Llangefni is also going to close.

“If I give attention to Beaumaris for a moment, in the same way that we heard from Llyr Gruffydd about services being sucked away, when the announcement was made by NatWest and HSBC about closing in Beaumaris: ‘Don’t worry—Menai Bridge is only four miles away.’ But now we’ve heard that the branches in Menai Bridge are also closing.

“The reason we hear is that there’s more banking happening online; of course, that is factually accurate. There are lots of services available in the post office, we hear; of course that’s also true. But with all respect to post offices that are offering more and more services for paying in and withdrawing funds, the advice, the additional services and the support available through branches is not available. That’s the kind of support that the most vulnerable people do require. I don’t expect to see a return to the days where every small town has every branch of bank, but it’s important to ensure that there are basic financial services available to all within a sensible distance.

“With regard to the consultations taking place, I have a letter from NatWest here about the closure of the Menai Bridge branch saying that there are five ATMs within a mile of the branch, so what does it matter that that particular ATM will be lost? Well, what I pointed out to NatWest was that four of those are on the mainland—one of them in Ysbyty Gwynedd and one of them in Coleg Menai; that is, misleading people by giving the impression that alternative services are available. There aren’t; there’s only one available in Menai Bridge, as it happens, and that itself isn’t in the town centre.
“There are, I think, a number of solutions or perhaps responses that we can look at. I believe that we should be seeking to put the onus on the banking and finance sector to provide a minimum level of access. As I said, that’s not a matter of saying, ‘Let’s have every branch open in every town’ as was the case years ago, but making it a duty for the sector to ensure that there is at least a suitable level of access. Plaid Cymru in the UK Parliament have requested that Government introduces a ‘last bank in town’ status as part of the British Bankers’ Association legislation. And here, of course, I sound that warning that we can’t have a race by the banks to make sure that they’re not the last bank in town.

“Access is vital, and we’ve already heard suggestions about how there could be shared facilities, perhaps including the current established financial sector, plus also the exciting prospect such as a Welsh people’s bank that could give us an exciting way forward, responding to a necessary situation. This is a crisis that we are facing of the haemorrhaging of our financial institutions. This isn’t a pipe dream. When we look at the North Dakota bank and see that it is a hugely profitable bank, able to pump money back into infrastructure projects in North Dakota, where the Government deposits its finances with that bank in order to ensure that there is a continuous flow of money, these are exciting prospects that I believe we can’t afford to ignore. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. We know what is necessary; we need to make sure that we stand up to the haemorrhaging of financial institutions. We cannot continue to let that haemorrhaging go unchallenged.”

Video: Rhun’s contribution to bank closures debate in Senedd

In a debate in the National Assembly for Wales on bank closures, Ynys Môn AM Rhun ap Iorwerth talked of the two local examples in Amlwch and Menai Bridge and argued that banks should give full consideration to the impact of their decisions on communities.

The full text of Rhun’s speech in the Senedd:

Losing a local bank is a huge blow to any community. At best, perhaps, it can mean that one has to change bank accounts to another branch down the road. At worst, and far too often, the reality is, of course, that the bank to close is the very last bank in that community,

The two examples I have from my own constituency are Menai Bridge and Amlwch. Menai Bridge is a prosperous town, full of economic activity, and it makes no sense whatsoever to anyone looking from the outside why HSBC would intend to close that branch, particularly given that it’s only a year or two since the branch in Beaumaris closed, and the customers of that bank were told at that point, ‘Don’t worry, you can go to Menai Bridge to do your banking.’ Now, in Amlwch the branch there is closing. Amlwch is a town that’s going to be at the heart of great economic activity over the next decade, yet it is clear that they are not looking to the future at all in terms of the bank in Amlwch. What have customers been told? ‘Don’t worry, you can actually do your banking in the post office.’ But we know that there is uncertainty about the future of the post office in Amlwch, and we know of too many communities in Wales where the post office has also been lost.

We know that this, according to the banks, is driven by changes in our own banking practices, and, of course, we, each and every one of us in this Chamber, I’m sure, are doing more of our banking online and so on. But the decision to close these branches is happening at a time when our communities, generally speaking, aren’t ready to say, ‘Yes, we are communities that do all of our banking online’. There are too many vulnerable and older people in our communities who aren’t ready to participate in this modern online banking age. Also, we regularly in this Chamber talk of problems in relation to broadband in our rural areas. There are too many areas that don’t have the necessary digital infrastructure to enable them to fully participate in online banking.

What the banks say, of course, is that these branches aren’t profitable. I’m sure that they’re right in terms of the branches themselves. I’ll refer to a paper published by the Competition and Markets Authority in August of last year as part of an inquiry into retail banking:

‘the “retail banking” divisions constituted an important source of income for the five largest UK banks. In 2014, these banks on an average, derived close to 60% of their total revenues from the retail divisions. The retail banking divisions across the five banks reported a total income of £42.1 billion and profit before tax of £14.2 billion in 2014. Figures…show that, while total reported income of the banks has remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2014, the reported profit has, in general, shown an upward trend during this period’

The banks are profiting from their retail banking. What should happen is that the banks operate as a network, with profitable branches assisting, in turn, to maintain the less profitable branches, in a way that regulation certainly happens with the private mobile phone market, for example—the masts in Anglesey don’t make a profit for the telecommunications companies, but as part of the network they do have to provide that wider coverage, of course. So, that is what should happen with the banks, but, clearly, the banks aren’t interested in that. So, we must maintain pressure on the banks and on Governments to ensure that full consideration is given by these institutions to the impact of their decisions on communities.

We can make our own efforts to ensure the viability of our high streets, for example, in order to attract more customers to the banks, but, of course, the bank is one of those things that actually makes for a viable high street. We will play our part, of course, to try to ensure that there is footfall through our banks, but the banks do have to consider their responsibility as part, as I say, of a network that serves not just our prosperous and highly populated areas, but also our poorer, rural areas.

Rhun meets with HSBC

Following their decision to close branches in Menai Bridge and Amlwch, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM met with HSBC regional managers. Following the meeting, he said:

“In my meeting with them, I emphasised to HSBC how disappointing their announcement was. I was given assurance that no jobs would be lost, but this is another blow to the towns, and they obviously had no interest in reconsidering. With the uncertainty over the future of the Post Office in Amlwch as well, I asked for a delay in making any decision until we have more assurance about the banking services that will be available for customers through the post office.

“Yes, banking habits have changed and that means less footfall, but decisions to close are taken whilst many, including the elderly and vulnerable, find it difficult or cannot turn to more modern ways of banking and still need the contact with their local branch.”