Small firms raise fears over pace of bank closures

Bank branches are closing at a faster rate in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, raising fears about damage to small firms and local economies.

The FSB said online services do not fill the gap left by boarded-up bank branches. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Statistics from the Competition & Markets Authority show that between 2013 and 2014, the number of bank branches north of the Border fell 7.7 per cent, from 1,123 to 1,037. During the same period, the rate of decline in Northern Ireland was 6.4 per cent, followed by Wales at 5.7 per cent and England at 5 per cent.

The figures are contained in a new report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which noted that some are predicting the UK’s estimated remaining 8,300 bank branches could fall by as much as half during the next decade.

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The FSB said this was making it harder for firms to access banking services such as cash and cheque deposits, as well as face-to-face advice on financing.

Andy Willox, the FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, said the group was writing to the Scottish Government and banking chiefs in Scotland asking their views on how to minimise the impact of this trend.

“Banks are disappearing from Scottish high streets and this poses problems,” Willox said.

“We recognise that more businesses are using online banking. But, as our report highlights, these services don’t fill the gap left by boarded-up branches.

“Further, because Scotland lags behind England in terms of both mobile and broadband coverage, the impact of withdrawal of local services is exacerbated.”