JEFF PRESTRIDGE: As Santander calls time on another 140 branches, bank closures are about as welcome as an arctic wind
Over the years I have worked with some splendid people who have campaigned tirelessly for a fairer personal finance world.
Sadly, their efforts have not always resulted in financial justice or the right outcome.
For example, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Derek French – a former NatWest banker and founder of the Campaign for Community Banking Services – had a great idea that, if backed by the big banks, would have ensured no town today would be bankless.
All of Britain’s big banks have closed branches in the past decade
His vision was for every town to have a community bank branch – with running costs shared between the major high street banks. Instead of three banks on one high street, one branch for all.
It all made commonsense, but despite backing from charities such as Age Concern (Age UK as it is now known), the Federation of Small Businesses and vigorous campaigning from The Mail on Sunday, his idea was ridden out of town.
The banks were more interested in protecting their own self-interests.
While French, as caring an individual as you will ever meet, has now retired and the Campaign for Community Banking Services has long been put out to grass, the big bad banks have now turned many towns into bankless zones – bar the odd cash machine, often independently operated.
Some communities have been left devastated, disadvantaging those who have no desire to bank online and local businesses which rely upon a physical branch to bank their takings.
Derek French – a former NatWest banker – founded the Campaign for Community Banking Services
Last week, Santander became the latest bank to take a bloody axe to its branch network by announcing the culling of 140 of its 754-strong network.
This follows the closure last year of 774 branches by the top eight banks. Should Santander be vilified for its actions? Of course. It woefully underinvested in its network, turning some branches into dreary outlets. About as welcoming as an Arctic wind.
Communities are losing their last bank branch all the time. For example, Westbury in Wiltshire (famous for the nearby Bratton White Horse) will lose its sole remaining branch next month when Lloyds Banking Group shuts up shop. Just a cash machine in the local Morrisons store will provide the community with access to cash. Politicians should be ashamed of themselves for standing idly by and allowing the banks to desert the high street.
If only they had listened to Derek French – rather than allow the banks to ride roughshod over them and communities countrywide.
Sad passing of a pensions linchpin
Alison and Andrew Parr – pictured at the High Court in London
Talking of strident personal finance campaigners, it is sad to learn of the death of 74-year-old Andrew Parr.
In the early 2000s, Andrew was one of the linchpins behind the formation of the Pensions Action Group, a fantastic band of individuals who campaigned long and hard for pensions justice.
Without their tireless efforts we would not today have in place the Pension Protection Fund that ensures no one can now lose their right to a hard-earned company pension if their employer goes bust.
Backed by a loving wife, Parr was one of the bricks behind PAG, always articulate and willing to take a call from a journalist on deadline (usually me) keen to get a quote.
Thousands of people today are in receipt of a pension (care of the PPF) because of Parr’s hard work and that of others who helped turn PAG’s cogs. They should be grateful. Very grateful to Andrew Parr.
Tax stragglers in final countdown
This Thursday is the last opportunity for more than 3.5 million stragglers to file their tax return before the taxman starts fining them. So if this arduous task remains on your to-do list, please try to find time in the next couple of days.
If the return is late, a £100 fine is triggered – even if that’s your only misdemeanour. A fine will still come your way, even if you owe the taxman the square root of zero.
Hundreds of thousands of people failed to meet the deadline last year – and penalties, unlike good wine, get worse the longer the task goes undone.
After three months, penalties ramp up to £10 a day for every day the return is late, up to a maximum £900. Worse follows but let’s not go there.
So please get the return in on time. Supportive videos and webinars can be found at gov.uk/guidance/help-and-support-for-self-assessment. Or call the self-assessment helpline on 0300 200 3310.
Get it done and then reward yourself with a drop of the good stuff. In the process, raise a glass to Andrew Parr. I will.