Two North Wales Members of the Senedd have welcomed the Welsh Government’s plans to create a Community Bank of Wales after a raft of high street branch closures in their areas.
Ken Skates (Clwyd South) and Jack Sargeant (Alyn and Deeside) raised the issue of bank closures in the Senedd this week after recently published data showed their constituencies have been the two worst-hit in North Wales.
Mr Sargeant is working with Welsh Government and Banc Cambria to open the first Community Bank in Buckley, Flintshire. His constituency has seen 67% of its branches closed since January 2015, with just four surviving. In Mr Skates’ constituency, 80% of branches have been closed over the same period – and it now has just one bank.
Both Members have previously pointed to the UK Government abandoning an agreement with the banking sector that the last branch in every community should be kept open as the catalyst for the swathe of closures over the past six years. Mr Skates said recently that the coronavirus pandemic had “highlighted the serious concerns many had over whether the UK’s retail banking sector is fit for social purpose”.
During questions to the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, on Wednesday (June 30), both Members of the Senedd asked for an update on the Welsh Government’s plans to establish the Community Bank of Wales, which begun during Mr Skates’ tenure as Economy Minister.
Mr Skates praised Mr Sargeant’s campaigning on the issue and asked the Minister to outline how people in both constituents will benefit from the creation of a community bank.
The Minister responded: “It’s going to be a mutual owned by, and run for the benefit of, its members. It will improve access to banking services and access to cash, multi-channel bilingual banking services for people and businesses and also collaborating with the Welsh financial ecosystem, for example credit unions, and creating direct jobs as well.
“No community banks operate in the UK, but we will be the first. Banc Cambria aims to provide everyday retail banking across the whole of Wales.”
Mr Sargeant said: “Could I just start by thanking the Member for Clwyd South for his work as a Minister, to date, on the community bank, and the Minister who is responsible now, Jane Hutt, for her commitment to date.
“Minister, as you have know, I’ve long championed for a community bank in Buckley, in my constituency. Can you update the Chamber on the progress being made to open Wales’s first community bank branch in Buckley?”
The Minister described Mr Sargeant as “another champion and pioneer for the community bank bid, alongside Ken Skates, who got this initiative under way”.
She added: “It is so good that we are taking this forward. The roll-out and timing of branches are under development by Banc Cambria, and I’m also meeting high street banks shortly to discuss social justice issues because of the closure of bank branches across the whole of Wales.”
The Minister said that operational delivery plans continue to develop in parallel with regulatory assessments and wider Welsh Government evaluation “in order that Banc Cambria can be established at the earliest opportunity post regulatory approval and investment decisions”.