HSBC branches close amid protests
A number of HSBC branches across the UK closed "as a precaution" on Saturday after demonstrators from a direct action group staged protests outside.
UK Uncut have targeted a number of branches in 13 locations and have succeeded in shutting branches in Glasgow, Sheffield, Brixton and Regent Street in London - branches which HSBC initially said would be "open as usual".
The protest group arrived at the Regent Street branch at around noon, 30 minutes after it had been shut "temporarily", to protest against the Government's welfare cuts by "transforming" it into a food bank.
The campaigners highlighted research showing that 500,000 people now rely on food banks on a regular basis, with almost half saying it was because of cuts or delays in benefits payments.
The group of around 50 to 100 protesters at the central London branch accused HSBC of making matters worse by "dodging tax". The protesters set up a food bank on the street in front of the branch and put tape across the front door which had the message Closed By UK Uncut written across it.
An HSBC spokesman said the branch "shut temporarily at 11.30am as a precaution", adding: "It may open later." Earlier, the spokesman said: "Our branches will be open as usual this Saturday; however our clear priority is the safety of our customers and staff. We are aware that our branches are a focus of UK Uncut for the day and we will take any precautions necessary." On the HSBC website, the Saturday opening hours for the Regent Street branch are listed as 10am until 3pm.
Murray Worthy, a spokesman for UK Uncut taking part in the protest on Regent Street, said: "We came here to shut it down and it's shut down. We can't go on with business as usual with the big banks dodging tax, while hundreds of thousands of people go hungry. That's what we came here to do and that's what we've done."
He added: "We're here today because we think it's an outrage that half a million people now rely on food banks in the UK. The reason why so many people rely on food banks is because of the Government's cuts to welfare - things like the benefit cap and the bedroom tax forcing people into poverty. We think that's completely unfair when big companies like HSBC are dodging tax." Mr Worthy accused HSBC of using tax havens more than any other bank.
The HSBC spokesman said: "HSBC takes tax transparency very seriously. Globally, HSBC paid 9.3 billion dollars (£6.1 billion) in tax last year, up from eight billion dollars (£5.2 billion) in 2011, and just in the UK the bank paid a total of 1.6 billion dollars (£1.1 billion) in taxes."
A UK Uncut spokeswoman said some protesters were moving on from Regent Street to a HSBC branch on Oxford Street. HSBC said the Brixton branch has reopened. The HSBC spokesman said: "Today's protests were peaceful, however some branches were closed as a precaution. We would like to apologise to customers who were inconvenienced by this." He added that the Regent Street and Oxford Street branches, which were shut due to the protests, have now reopened.