'Vitally important': Last in town bank branches saved from closure
PUBLISHED: 17:53 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:53 08 October 2019
Seven towns have been told their banks will be kept open to protect rural communities.
Barclays has pledged not to close 105 branches in remote areas or where it is the last bank in town for the next two years, until October 2021, with seven of them across Suffolk and north Essex.
Framlingham Business Association chairman, Victoria Perkins, said: "We are thrilled to hear the news that Barclays Bank will remain in Framlingham.
"The bank is a key member of our community and used by many of our local businesses and residents.
"It is also well used by out of town visitors, especially on a Tuesday and Saturday when we have our beautiful market, so it's a huge plus for our market traders and vital for the 'cash only' traders who have been part of the market for years."
Where are the banks in Suffolk and north Essex that have been saved?
Towns in Suffolk have already felt the squeeze from bank closures, with Aldeburgh losing its last branch of Barclays in December 2018.
One small business owner, Graham Barton of Ipswich's Barton Electricals, said that the bank could have gone further to protect its isolated branches and the people that rely on them.
Asked whether the two-year delay to any closures was long enough for small businesses to prepare for a town without a bank, Mr Barton said: "I think it'll be tight, I think it could be extended to three or four years.
"I know we're moving in the direction of technology taking over these parts of our lives, but if I have a problem with my banking I know I can nip down to the branch and someone can help me.
"If you have to sort it out on the phone you can be there the length of a dinner and a coffee waiting for an answer."
In September 2019, consumer experts Which? found that the east of England has last almost 9% of its free-to-access ATMs since January 2017.
Limiting access to cash hits people on the lowest incomes hardest as they are more likely to rely on cash day-to-day.
Manager of Leiston Citizens Advice Bureau, Martin Jones, said: "It's vitally important these banks are protected and that the public can use the services they offer freely.
"Those in local rural areas like Leiston will need to be able to access their money.
"I think in this rural area, if people had to go to a different location it would become more difficult for a lot of people.
"Not everyone has their own private transport, they may have to rely on public transport or may not be able to use that because of a disability or illness.
"It maintains that local connection to money that people need."
Councillors and MPs have welcomed the confirmation of bricks-and-mortar banking in their areas fro the next two years.
Southwold mayor, Ian Bradbury, said: "It is excellent news Barclays bank with be remaining in the town for the next two years, this decision is welcomed and applauded by the town council."
Leiston town council clerk, John Rayner, said: "Leiston residents will be pleased to hear this and the Leiston Branch, being the last bank in the town, is popular and well used."
Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, has both the Southwold and Leiston branches of the bank in her constituency.
Dr Coffey said: "This is really good news from Barclays.
"I have fought a long campaign to try to get banks to think about the communities they serve, to stop banks closing branches in the rural towns of Suffolk Coastal and to protect vital services for all sectors of our community, especially elderly residents and local businesses."
Adam Rowse, managing director of branch-based banking at Barclays, said: "By maintaining last-in-town or remote branches over the next two years, and working with the community, we hope to increase demand and keep these branches viable.
"We also recognise that there are opportunities to support customers with access to cash where there is no branch or ATM nearby."
Barclays is launching a new cashback scheme enabling people to withdraw money at small businesses too far from ATMs or bank branches - but said that from 2020 its customers will no longer be able to withdraw cash over the counter at Post Offices.
The bank said it remains "committed to the Post Office framework" and customers and businesses will still be able to pay in cash, cheques and check their balance.
The Post Office, which has around 11,500 branches, offers banking services on behalf of many banks, but some commentators in the access-to-cash debate have argued that this should not be seen as a direct replacement for banks' own branches.