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Tory heavyweights are backing the measures to ensure access to cash does not vanish from Britain's town centres. North Norfolk Conservative MP Duncan Baker is alarmed by the mass closure of high street bank branches and sees a key role for the Post Office in providing vital over-the-counter services. He will present his proposals to Parliament on Tuesday.
Supporters include former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey and former security minister Sir John Hayes. Mr Baker, a champion of the high street who formerly worked in a department store in Holt which dates back to the 18th century, points to research which found more than eight million adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society. At present, major banks allow customers to access services in post offices via a "framework agreement" but Mr Baker argues this is "fragile" and should be made mandatory.
He said: "My Bill aims to make it mandatory for high street banks to have to offer basic banking services through the 11,500 strong Post Office branch network. Since 1988, 14,000 bank branches have shut... "Presently, the Government has a framework agreement between the banks and the Post Office, which is negotiated every three years.
There should be proper mandatory legislation that is regulated by the FCA that forces banks to always offer high street services.(C) Getty Banks
"This will provide much better security to the elderly, vulnerable, small businesses and whole communities who see banking services disappear off their high street every year." Mr Baker fears that the pandemic and the boom in online shopping will encourage banks to shutter even more branches. He said: "It would only take a couple of the big banks to say, 'We don't even need this anymore.
We've pushed so many people online [there's] no need to have any high street presence whatsoever.' "I think that's bad for society. We should stop that."
The MP argues that his proposals would not only keep banking services in place on the high street but could fuel an expansion of the post office network.High Street warning: Banks could be forced to offer services in UK post offices(C) Wikipedia MP Duncan Baker
"We know that people love our post offices," he said. "They love the postmasters. "They've really risen to the fore in the pandemic... We know that they are entrepreneurial."
Mr Baker's proposals will need Government backing to become law but they have received the support of some of highest profile Conservatives, including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 group of backbench MPs.
Calum Greenhow, chief executive of the National Federation of Subpostmasters, said: "[We] throw our support behind it completely.
Our subpostmasters want to continue supporting all members of our local communities and the Government need to support the drive for a stronger alliance between banks and post offices to ensure we can look after the most vulnerable who require access to the services that only the post offices can provide once a bank has left the area."