Suffolk: MP asks regulator to probe bank closures

A SUFFOLK MP has called on economic regulators to investigate the closure of rural banks after the issue was raised in Parliament this week.

Dr Therese Coffey, who represents Suffolk Coastal, suggested that bank closures in rural areas should be examined by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) when she spoke in a Commons debate.

She referred directly to the closure of HSBC’s Aldeburgh branch in late 2010, against which she spoke out. Dr Coffey said: “Keeping rural branches open is key for all sectors of the community, especially for elderly residents and local businesses.

“After its study of oil supplies, the OFT is now looking to examine other issues affecting rural communities. Access to financial services could be its next topic.”

The OFT launched ‘a fact-finding review’ earlier this month to study the challenges facing consumers and businesses in remote communities across the UK, and has asked the public to help inform its work before publishing the outcome for evidence in time for July.

The Independent Commission on Banking, set up in June 2010 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider banking reforms, already found in its final report of September last year that there was concern among the public about bank branch closure in rural and isolated communities.

Dr Coffey joined the debate this week, tabled by Welsh MP Roger Williams after HSBC announced a branch in his Brecon and Radnorshire constituency would shut in March.

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The Suffolk MP had previously backed residents in a campaign against the closure of the bank’s Aldeburgh branch in December 2010, saying bosses had failed to properly consult local customers before announcing the decision, which was based on a fall in the number of customers below a sustainable level, to only 18 people an hour.

The OFT agreed with Dr Coffey that, in remote communities, there can be fewer suppliers available, and access to key services such as shops, dentists, chemists, banks and public transport can be limited.

Kyla Brand, OFT director, added: “Geography and population density can have a major impact on the cost and accessibility of goods and services to consumers, and on how businesses operate.

“We want to get a clearer picture of these issues and understand and explain some of the reasons behind them. We also want to explore what the OFT, or other bodies could do to reduce the downsides, and maximise the benefits of remoteness.”

The regulator is running workshops in seven UK counties, chosen to reflect the diverse nature of remote communities, and is interested in hearing from residents of East Anglia about their experiences.

To find out more and fill in an online form, visit the OFT website www.oft.gov.uk/remcom or send an e-mail to remotecommunities@oft.gsi.gov.uk.