Loss of banks causing substantial financial hardship, study suggests
Residents and businesses in towns without any banks face “substantial financial hardship”, according to a report.
The study was carried out by Cambuslang Community Council after three bank branches closed within 18 months of each other in the South Lanarkshire town.
Between 2016 and 2017, Clydesdale, Royal Bank of Scotland and TSB all announced closures, leaving Cambuslang without a bank.
The report noted the decisions were in part due to a fall in the number of bank transactions and an increase in the use of mobile and online banking.
The community council claimed none of the banks had consulted with them or any other community organisations and did not carry out the required impact assessment of the potential effects of closing branches.
A total of 420 Cambuslang residents and 85 businesses responded to a survey conducted as part of the study to gather views on the impact of the closures.
It found more than 70% of respondents felt the closures had a major negative impact on them.
Around 65% also said they had found accessing cash difficult since the branches had been closed.
Findings in the study also highlighted a largely negative impact on businesses, with more than 60% of people saying the closure of branches had caused them to shop less often on the town’s main street.
The report’s co-author Professor John Bachtler, said: “The findings from our research in Cambuslang include heart-rending accounts of the financial hardship being suffered by people who are least able to deal with the consequences of branch closures – the elderly, the disabled, benefit recipients, those with caring responsibilities and those on low incomes.
“The banks are worsening social exclusion rather than reducing it.
“Further, the closure of bank branches is undermining UK and Scottish government policies for town centre regeneration.
“The evidence from Cambuslang and other towns is that branch closures lead to people shopping elsewhere and a loss of trade for unbanked main streets.”
At Westminster, the Scottish Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into financial services access, with a decline of ATMs across the country cited as an area of key concern.
The report has been submitted to the committee, with its authors calling for a statutory obligation on the banking sector to ensure a minimum weekly banking service in all communities.
Professor Bachtler added: “Government has taken a far too permissive role in allowing communities to become unbanked.
“There are many challenges facing our towns and communities that we can’t control, but branch closures are not one of them.
“Policymakers need to live up to their social obligations, and the banks needs to deliver on their promises.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This survey clearly demonstrates that there is a continuing need for cash to be readily available to all, and people in our communities need to know that they have secure, free access to cash to allow them to go about their daily lives.
“This is also vital for these local businesses, such as hospitality businesses, that continue to rely, at least to some extent, upon cash for transactions.
“We support calls to protect the ATM network, especially in rural communities and areas already affected by previous and proposed bank branch closures, where ATMs provides a lifeline service to consumers and small businesses.
“There needs to be a long-term, sustainable banking service for all communities and the Scottish Government will continue to work with banks to ensure that essential services remain accessible to all.”