The Scottish Nationalist MPs at Westminster are a disciplined lot: when they get something between their teeth they stick at it relentlessly as a team effort. Recently their chosen subject for this remorseless treatment has been the closure of bank branches in rural areas. It is an emotive subject and I’ve made my own representations earlier this year against the closure of the last branch in Fordingbridge.
The problem isn’t a new one. I recall that when I was working in banking over 20 years ago, we had spotted that our branches were increasingly a cost to us without the benefit of generating much revenue. A cunning plan was hatched to make the branches more productive by having them sell insurance and other financial products to our customers. Well look how that turned out: The banks haven’t yet fully put the payment protection insurance scandal behind them, at a cost of £ billions.
The fact is that I haven’t been in a branch of my bank for years, I just don’t need to. It is unrealistic to expect banks to maintain a branch network which is increasingly under-used. Those settlements in this constituency with whom I joined in protest at the closure of their bank, have defied predictions and continued to thrive. The reason is this: there is not much you can do in a bank that you can’t do in a post office, and there is a lot more that you can do besides.
It is the post office that is at the heart of communities across the UK, with millions of customers and small businesses relying on their local branch every day to access a wide range of important services. Last week the Government announced up to £370 million of new investment in the Post Office to ensure that the network continues to develop.
Figures published this month reveal that branch numbers are the most stable they have been for decades. There are more branches than last year, with the network growing in size for the last two years to over 11,600 post offices across the country. The number of rural branches has also risen to 6,185. Today, 93% of us live within one mile of a post office.
£2 billion of investment in the Post Office since 2010 has led to over seven and a half thousand branches being transformed and modernised, bringing almost a million extra opening hours per month for customers, with 4,400 branches open on a Sunday. Over the next 3 years new technology will be implemented to support products and develop new ones.
For the first time in 16 years the Post Office has made a profit. So, don’t worry about the bank, shop at your post office.