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Monday, 25 May 2015

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Tynedale: Businesses pay the price for bank closures in rural areas

WITH speculation rife that Barclays Bank is to close 400 branches nationwide, Tynedale communities look set to be hit yet again.

Branches in Haltwhistle, Hexham, Bellingham and Prudhoe could all be under threat of closure after the banking group hinted at the wide scale cutbacks, which would see 40,000 jobs lost as a result.

The cull would be further bad news for the district’s banking market as it comes in the wake of the revelation that Hexham’s long established Britannia Building Society office in Cattle Market will definitely cease operating in April.

Customers of the branch will now have to travel 70 miles to access the nearest Britannia branch in the Lake District, although a shorter journey of 22 miles to Newcastle to access the society’s parent company the Co-operative Bank is available.

The district has already been badly hit with bank closures in recent years, Allendale losing its only bank when Lloyds TSB pulled out of the village back in 2011.

Nearby communities have had to cope with the loss of facilities too, the residents of Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge both up in arms when HSBC pulled the plug in their respective areas.

The bank angered people living in Haydon Bridge in 2010 when it closed the branch on Church Street without warning, disconnecting the cash machines to deny them any means of withdrawing money.

Just two years later, HSBC was at it again and announced it was to shut its Haltwhistle base.

This meant that local people faced a round-trip of 24 miles to Brampton to use their nearest HSBC bank – although that branch has recently announced it is to follow suit and will close for business next week.

As a result, there will be no HSBC services between Hexham and Carlisle.

People in Haltwhistle are left feeling neglected by the banks, especially if they are also to lose Barclays.

Already, many local businesses have switched their bank accounts when the town’s popular HSBC office was removed.

Trevor and Karen Potts, owners of hardware store Bits ‘n’ Pieces, made the change to the Cumberland Building Society after feeling badly treated by the bank.

Trevor said: “It was difficult for us to go down to Hexham because, by the time you get parked and walk into town, you’re looking at an hour-and-a-half just to put money in the bank. We weren’t prepared to go to the Hexham one because it just wasn’t economical for us whatsoever, while Brampton’s a fair trot away itself.

“I think all the businesses have transferred now and I know that HSBC has lost a lot of customers in Haltwhistle, and the bank has definitely missed a trick.

“The town feels overlooked when it comes to banks and it is such a shame to look at the empty building now looking like an eyesore.

“Having already lost HSBC, I don’t know what we would do if we lost the Cumberland; we’d probably have to keep our money under our beds!

“It is bad news all around and I feel bad for those in Haydon Bridge too as they have nothing.”

Over in Wylam, the village has been without a bank since Barclays pulled out more than five years ago.

Businesses and people with personal accounts were badly affected by the decision as they were forced to travel to deposit their earnings.

Tom Martin, owner of Wylam Nurseries, faced daily drives to Ponteland or Ryton to put the business’s takings in a safe place. But this created difficulties because, as the bank is only open during working hours, he would have to take time off work for the journey or, worse still, takings would be kept overnight.

However, the journey times have become a thing of the past after he learned that the Post Office could handle bank transfers, making things a lot easier.

Yet he still said the village, and Tynedale in general, was being dealt a poor hand by the banks.

He said: “I think the banks are looking at these outlets and saying they are too expensive to run especially as more and more customers are going online, but I think that is a very negative approach and it is deeply concerning for communities.

“The banks go on about online banking but, from a community point of view, there are people of a particular generation who like the face-to-face customer service, and always will.

“People have a huge amount of loyalty and don’t want to change their accounts, often due to the whole rigmarole of it, so moving the bank out of a community is a disaster.

“For people aged 50 or over, having a branch open to them is vital and the thought of them having to get on a bus to travel miles for their local branch is sad.

“The threat of losing more banks is another knock for rural communities, and another thing that makes it more difficult for people living in these areas, rather than the most urban communities where there are plenty of banks nearby.”