Belfast Telegraph

Bank branch closures let down small companies, warns business group

Small firms are being let down by the accelerating closure of local bank branches, a business group has warned.

The bank branch network has halved to just over 8,000 in the past 25 years and is set to halve again in the next decade, said the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Banks are increasingly referring customers to the Post Office, but in some cases even these have closed or moved, said the FSB.

Chairman Mike Cherry said: "The rapid pace of bank branch closures across the UK presents some very real and tough challenges for small businesses.

"FSB members highly value the face-to-face interaction they receive in-branch, particularly when making complex financial transactions, with staff who often have a greater understanding of their business and the local economy.

"In addition, many of our members deal heavily in cash and cheques and need access to over-the-counter banking facilities on a regular basis.

"Small businesses are keen to embrace the opportunities of the digital economy.

"However, barriers towards digital inclusion, such as unreliable broadband connectivity, and a lack of confidence in using digital services creates serious challenges."

Shadow business minister Bill Esterson said: "The Government must do more to help small businesses who face the closure of their bank. Post Offices can be used instead, but the Tories have shut many of these too, following the disastrous privatisation of Royal Mail. In many towns and villages, businesses who need a counter service because they rely on cash and cheques are being disadvantaged.

"The government needs to step in, otherwise it will be allowing the death of businesses and communities up and down our country."