North Yorkshire councillors have called on banks to take their responsibilities to rural communities more seriously and consider collaborating to create one-stop shops for their services on market town high streets.
While bank branch closures reached their peak in 2017, further concerns have been raised over access to banking across North Yorkshire after HSBC announced it would shut its branches in Northallerton and Richmond.
Between 2015 and the end of this year a projected 340 bank and building society branches will have closed across Yorkshire, leaving 386 branches.
In the North-East over the same period a projected 128 will have closed by the end of the year, leaving 204 branches.
A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmondshire constituency committee heard a scarcity of banks was proving particularly challenging in rural areas, where people suffer with poor broadband and mobile coverage, and there are higher populations of elderly customers.
Croft-on-Tees resident Georgie Sale told the meeting while the branch closures displayed “a lack of understanding in how rural communities work”, the banking facilities were important for businesses and tourism.
She said as a result of the closures she had been left feeling “terribly vulnerable” while queuing for 30 minutes to pay in the proceeds from a village hall fundraiser at Northallerton’s post office, which is now located at the back of WH Smiths.
Councillors said customers wanting to use banking services faced horrendous queues in post offices as their staff had been overwhelmed since the banks closed.
The meeting heard how access to bank services for numerous communities was reliant on just one firm continuing to operate. Councillor John Weighell told members: “I dread the thought of that one bank going in Bedale.”
A council spokesman told the meeting while the council recognised the issues being highlighted and would continue to raise concerns, neither the authority or the government had any power to stop bank closures.
Following an inquiry into the issue by the authority’s corporate and partnerships scrutiny committee inquiry in 2019, the council carried out a review of sites where cash machines could be located.
However, Councillor Bryn Griffiths said the issue was far wider than just cash machines and said places where people could deal with someone person to person, particularly for complex transactions, were needed.
He said: “Not everybody wants to use or trusts IT. I think we should be encouraging banks to get together and knock their heads together and perhaps join up and provide some sort of banking services facility. I do feel we are losing out in the rural areas significantly.
“What we should be doing is encouraging banks to talk and work together to provide services to rural communities. It is clear they are just upping shop and walking away. It is not good enough.”
The meeting was told one-stop shop banks, offering not only personal banking services and loans, but also investment advice, investment vehicles and insurance policies, were common in other countries, such as Sweden, and the meeting heard calls for the county’s MPs to promote the concept to banks.
Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock said local solutions were needed as every community was different.
She added: “That is probably the only way forward. We can’t tell these big banks what to do unfortunately, that is their businesses.”