Ruth's Personally Speaking Column - 19th March 2018

In many ways, the local bank branch is the heart of a community. It is a lifeline to many residents, especially the elderly and vulnerable for whom the baffling, faceless world of online banking can be a real struggle. And it plays a vital role supporting local businesses.
 
That’s why I led a debate in Parliament on the importance of community banking and urged the Government to do more to make sure that banks are considering the needs of their customers, especially the elderly and disabled.
 
I raised the proposed closures of bank branches across Stoke-on-Trent and the damage that losing these services can do for the local communities on which they depend.
 
At a time when the Cooperative Bank is planning to close branches in Tunstall and Kidsgrove, and when Burslem is at risk of losing its very last bank in town, it is no surprise that local residents are concerned and angry. The proposed bank closures across our city could have a huge impact on our towns.
 
Communities across Stoke-on-Trent have come together to voice their objections, and petitions against the closures in my own constituency have attracted thousands of signatures.
 
These worries are being mirrored in communities up and down our country. In 1988 there were 20,585 bank branches across the country. By 2012 that figure had dropped to just 8,837, and the numbers are still falling.
 
These branches aren’t losing money, they’re popular and well-used local amenities. As a local resident and a Co-op customer myself I know that the Tunstall branch is always busy. But in their narrow focus on maximising short-term profits banks are cutting back on staff and property and in doing so are undermining the very communities they exist to serve.
 
The truth is there is still huge demand for the services that local branches provide. While 63% of people in the UK reported using online banking in 2017, only 30% of those over the age of 65 have done so. Meanwhile, local businesses who deal with high volumes of cash trade find themselves forced to travel to neighbouring towns just to deposit their takings.
 
We want strong towns, with successful local businesses. Having access to a high street bank plays a major role in achieving that. We cannot allow these community assets to be reduced to more empty shop fronts.