Central Devon loses 81% of banking network in five years!

This is the staggering figure revealed in a recent Which? report analysing how bank and building society closures have impacted in each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies since 2015.

It is widely accepted that over the past few years, bank and building society branches have been disappearing from our high streets at a frightening pace and blamed by many as one of the key reasons behind the high street’s worrying demise.

The banking industry responds that closures have been driven by a rapid increase in online and mobile banking, and a rapid decline in the use of physical branches.

According to a report published by UK Finance, the trade body that represents banks, 71% of adults used online banking in 2017, representing 38 million people. Close to 22 million people used mobile banking apps, and there were around 5.5bn logins to apps last year.

The number of bank branches in the UK roughly halved from 1986 to 2014 but since January 2015, banks and building societies closed (or scheduled the closure) of 3,509 branches at a rate of around 55 each month.

Between 600 and 700 branches were lost in both 2015 and 2016 and at the peak of the closures, 868 sites were lost around the UK in 2017 – a rate of more than 70 a month. Similarly, some 794 branches closed in 2018.

At the end of 2019 there were 10,405 bank or building society branches in the UK. Of these 8,525 were bank branches and 1,880 were building society branches.

According to Which? Wentworth and Dearne in South Yorkshire has the dubious distinction of being the first constituency to lose every single one of its bank and building society branches while Central Devon, the constituency represented by Conservative MP Mel Stride, ranks a frightening fourth, marginally behind North East Derbyshire and Stoke on Trent North, each of whom have lost a resounding 86% of their
banking network in the last five years.

Mel Stride responded in positive fashion. “Communities across Central Devon have been hit hard by bank closures as footfall has dropped significantly due to more transactions being carried out online. But we still are very fortunate to have more than 50 Post Offices – the third most of any constituency in the country – and 99% of bank customers can access their accounts at their local post office.

‘I have worked closely with Ashburton sub-postmaster Stuart Rogers in pressing banks to do more to tell their customers about the banking services available at post offices whenever they close a local branch and this remains an important issue. I also played a key role in persuading Barclays to continue to allow their customers to withdraw money at local post offices raising the issue on the floor of the House shortly after my election as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.”

The next issue of The Moorlander will feature an exclusive interview with Stuart Rogers and the important part the Post Office plays in offering an alternative to traditional banking.

If you take into account the effect bank closures have had within the postcodes of EX, TQ and PL – the postcodes which embrace The Moorlander’s circulation area – the figures revealed in the Which? report can be examined even more forensically.

Compared with the 10,405 branches nationally, by the end of 2019 just 122 bank and building society branches were operating within EX, TQ, and PL postcodes, a derisory 1.17% of the UK total! Of these, just 88 were banks and 34 were building societies serving a population of almost 1.4 million people throughout the entire region.

The loss of branches may have little day-to-day impact on those who have been able to seamlessly move to online banking and who have access to physical services when they need them. However, concerns have been raised about the effect the closure of branches has on those that need the physical infrastructure of a branch.

This impact is likely to be particularly significant when the last bank branch in a community closes, just as it did in Chagford in May 2017 when Lloyds shut its doors for the final time.

Rural areas such as Chagford are particularly affected with around 10% of the rural population now living at least 10 miles away from their bank’s nearest branch and a higher than average population of elderly customers who have come to rely on local banks down the years.

Poor broadband and erratic mobile coverage is another issue that continues to disrupt a stable online connection and let’s not forget there are those who either don’t want to, or cannot engage with, the digital revolution.

It is also reported that 20% of small businesses with a turnover below £2 million use branches as their primary means of banking. Concerns have also been raised about the impact of branch closures on ensuring the long term viability of the cash system.

The Financial Conduct Authority has raised concerns that this may be contributing to all of these groups’ financial exclusion. It was the recent announcement by TSB, after having trialled a period of reduced hours, that it was to permanently close its branch in Okehampton this coming May.

This means that out of HSBC, NatWest, Barclays, Lloyds and TSB all of whom occupied prominent high street sites only three years ago from this May only Lloyds will remain in the gateway town.

Concerns that even Lloyds could be added to the list of casualties in the months to come leaving Okehampton bereft of traditional banking facilities completely (save for the Post Office) prompted The Moorlander to dig a little deeper. We contacted the top 10 banks and building societies with a high street presence within the postcodes of our circulation area.

A chart is shown opposite which details the status of the respective brands by a) Number of closed branches since 2015; b) Mobile banking vans; c) Number of high street branches still open.

All but NatWest (who were decidedly unhelpful) were keen to offer facts, figures and supplementary information which is reproduced below.
In the case of NatWest we were able to extract the information we required from elsewhere in the public domain so their lack of cooperation mattered not.

The positive and indeed most pleasing fact is that, apart from TSB’s planned closure in Okehampton, not one single branch of any of the top 10 brands throughout EX, TQ or PL postcodes is earmarked for closure during 2020.

BARCLAYS
During the last five years Barclays have closed 16 branches in the EX, TQ and PL postcodes but in October 2019, they promised not to close branches in remote areas, or where it is the last bank in town for the next two years, as part of its commitment to the communities in which it operates. This will see over 100 branches ring-fenced and remain open until at least October 2021. These include Bideford in North Devon, Launceston and Wadebridge in Cornwall.

In addition, they are launching a new campaign to help them keep ‘Last in Town’ branches open over the longer term and will be asking the local community, businesses and stakeholders to get behind the initiative.

CO-OPERATIVE

Since 2015, the Co-operative has closed branches in Barnstaple, Sidmouth (EX), Torquay and Newton Abbot (TQ) and Tavistock (PL). There are still branches in Exeter and Plymouth.

HALIFAX
Only two branches have been axed in the last five years, these being in
Exeter and Plymouth with 12 branches still remaining within the region.

HSBC
Since 2015, HSBC has closed branches in Axminster, Exeter St. Thomas, Okehampton, South Moulton and Woolacombe in postcode EX. Dartmouth, Teignmouth & Dawlish, Torquay St. Marychurch and Totnes were closed in TQ, Bodmin, Plymstock and Saltash fell in PL. The bank is keen to emphasise that no further closures have been enforced in those postcodes since 2017 and there are no announcements for closures in the near future.

LLOYDS
Lloyds operate the UK’s largest branch network and are committed to maintaining this. During the last five years they have closed 45 branches within the stated postcodes.

Since 2015 they have replaced a further 23 high street branches (listed below) with mobile branches. Their mobile branches provide a
personal, face to face service to the local communities they visit, giving customers access to everyday banking services such as making deposits, withdrawing cash and paying bills.

Experienced colleagues are on hand to help customers with online banking and general account and product enquiries. All the mobile branches have full disabled access, including a disabled lift allowing wheelchair access and a hearing loop.

Lloyds mobile branches visit the following: EX: Braunton, Budleigh Salterton, Chulmleigh, Combe Martin, Cullompton, Dawlish, Ottery St Mary, Lynton, Torrington. TQ: Ashburton, Bovey Tracey, Chagford, Moretonhampstead, Salcombe, South Brent. PL: Dartmouth, Fowey, Lostwithiel, Mevagissey, Modbury, Padstow, St Blazey. See www.lloydsbank.com for details of schedules.

NATIONWIDE
The only branch within the stated postcode areas which has been closed during the last five years was at Barnstaple. Nationwide originally had two branches in the town centre so decided to merge these branches in 2015.

In 2017 they found a bigger, better premises in the town and moved the branch to the Green Lanes Shopping Centre. There are currently no plans regarding closures for 2020.

NATWEST
Have closed 17 branches since 2015 and offer mobile banking at 18 sites. Visit www.natwest.com for details. No further planned closures.

RBS
Nationally, the RBS Group, which comprises of NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank, closed 1,085 branches between them in the last five years. The Royal Bank of Scotland has only closed their Torquay branch in our region since 2015 with two others still open in in Exeter and Plymouth.

SANTANDER
Eight branches have closed during the past five years in our featured postcode areas, one of which was as a result of the consolidation of former Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley branches where there were multiple branches in close proximity. The affected towns were EX: Axminster, Bideford, Sidmouth; TQ: Brixham, Totnes, Kingsbridge; PL: Plymouth, Tavistock.

They are not planning a branch closure programme this year.

TSB
According to a TSB spokesman, over 70% of customers at their Okehampton branch already use alternative TSB branches in the area, or use online, mobile, telephone banking or their local Post Office to access their banking services. “We’re in the process of writing to those customers impacted, and our TSB Partners are always on hand to work with our customers to support them ahead of the planned closure of our Okehampton branch in May 2020.”

TSB still operate from 10 branches within EX, TQ and PL postcodes and claim they have twice as many branches per 10,000 customers than their competitors.

Sources of information and credits:

Which? The consumer affairs organisation has
researched and tracked the question of bank branch closures since 2015.

They have published information on the total number of branch closures, closures by bank and region and have developed an online tool which allows you to search for further information. www.which.co.uk
House of Commons Library

  • www.parliament.uk
    British Bankers Association
  • www.bba.org.uk
    Office of National Statistics
  • www.ons.gov.uk
    Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics
  • www.nomisweb.co.uk
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Author: Eric Partridge

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