On Friday last week I was informed by Barclays that it intended to close two of its bank branches in the Ludlow Constituency later this year – with the Church Stretton branch closing from 7th September, and Much Wenlock on 4th October.
Sadly, this forms part of a worrying trend in bank branch closures across the country, with Shropshire not exempt. But I am extremely disappointed with this decision, and am already working with local representatives, including councillors and Town Councils, to seek to have the closures reviewed by Barclays.
We all recognise that mobile banking has become more prevalent, while footfall in traditional bank branches has declined significantly in recent years. But South Shropshire is home to many elderly and vulnerable people, for whom online banking is simply not a credible option. Branch services are also important to both those banking for businesses or charities.
Church Stretton still maintains another bank branch, so the loss of Barclays will not be felt quite so acutely. But in Much Wenlock, Barclays is the last bank branch in town. So local residents and businesses will have to travel further afield for a complete range of banking services, though the local Post Office can perform everyday transactions typically carried out over branch counters, including paying in a cheque or depositing cash.
But the loss of any branch in one of our towns does have wider knock-on effects to local trade. The ready availability of cash and the ability to visit a branch in person, is good for our local high streets. Many will choose to pop in to meet friends or use local shops, after having gone to do their banking. People shop where they bank, and so money that would be coming into local businesses is at risk of being spent elsewhere.
Banks are also traditionally supportive of local causes, and without a local footprint, will be less inclined to offer charitable donations in the community. So we lose out when branches are closed.
In an area where cheques and cash are still widely used for making payments, where mobile telephone connections are not uniform, and where more than 26% of the population are aged over 65, the widespread take-up of mobile banking is not a viable substitute for a properly accessible branch network. I will be stressing these points to Barclays in asking them to review their decision.