“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.”