Who said anything about “don’t panic”…we should all be going Clive Dunn

Captain Mainwaring This is what our banks need, according to our Chancellor, George Osborne, no not a pompous buffoon of a bank manager, but a return to face-to-face banking where a respected manager has their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the community in which their customers live and work. Mr Osborne was addressing the most influential organisation representing small businesses in the UK – The Federation of Small Businesses.

On the face of it this sounds like a jolly good idea don’t you think? Only one minor flaw in the plan Mr Osborne, where are these face-to-face encounters going to take place, given the pulse of many communities is beating with the news that they are being deserted by the banks themselves? To compound the problem with your grand plan, your own government isn’t doing anything to bring an end to this irresponsible behaviour either. So much for Corporate Social Responsibility, eh? In fact, Mr Osborne, rather like Twirling Magnet in this year’s Grand National, you yourself have fallen at the first.

Dad’s Army was set in the fictional town of Warmington-on-Sea, and the chances are Captain Mainwaring’s bank would itself probably have been closed by now. You see ironically another somewhere-on-sea found out last month that it is losing a bank, its NatWest branch, that’s the rather affluent town of Highcliffe-on-Sea. How do I know? The Area Director chose to write and tell me. This is rather strange as my accounts are held in a branch about 100 miles away and I have only EVER stepped foot in his branch once. So I am guessing that this is less likely to be a personal service for me to plan my banking for any future short breaks in Dorset and more likely to be a sign that the bank is just a tad shambolic. Well they seem to be very busy closing branches here, there and everywhere, not enough time to worry about who gets what letters. However, I digress. This is yet another community where getting what Mr Osborne called for is going to be even more difficult. He said banks should be focusing on building closer relationships with their customers as he lamented: “that is all gone. It’s all ‘computer says no’.” It seems like we have a Conservative MP that might actually be down with the people, if only Mr Osborne were on hand to protect those Highcliffe residents, surely he could save their day? I mean if this was happening in his constituency, given everything he clearly laid out in his speech…

It is one thing to posture for your audience – he is after all one of those ego driven bods at the very pinnacle of running the country for us mere country-folk – but when it is proven to be complete baloney within days it is all rather disappointing, rather embarrassing too. You see Mr Osborne’s constituency of Tatton – that’s Cheshire if like me that had bypassed you – is where the community of Chelford is and very sadly this is another place that NatWest is deserting in a few weeks. What an opportunity for the MP for Chelford to step up to the plate and campaign for those residents and small businesses that he represents. What an opportunity for The Chancellor of the Exchequer to question the folly of this decision that will be so disastrous for his coffers. What an opportunity for the Second Lord of the Treasury to do whatever it is that he does when he is being that person. Oh come on George, what I mean is, choose one of your many roles and just make a stand and sort this out, because this is what you said a week or two ago: “I think the future lies in much more face-to-face banking. I don’t believe everybody wants to do this over the internet, particularly business customers.” What an opportunity to act, to govern, to lead…and what exactly was Mr Osborne’s response?

“It is very disappointing that the NatWest Chelford branch is to close in June because not enough customers are using it.”

“Disappointing”? Err, what are you talking about George? This sounds an awful long way from your robust campaigning opinion for those at the FSB. So, I ask, how do you know not enough customers use it? Did you pick up the phone to the RBS boss – remember he runs the bank that we all bailed out because it had been so stunningly well run – and rant at him? What might he have said: “trust me George I know what I am doing”? Because very few of us out here in the real world have any faith in anyone running any of our banks right now, with very good reason. The very good reason in this instance being the point that this line the banks are taking is simply not true. Since NatWest announced they were closing the Woodstock branch I have looked long and hard at this. Branches aren’t closing because not enough people use them. They are closing because people can’t do what Mr Osborne said they should be able to do in them. They are closing because British banks appear to be too blinkered, some might say stupid, to work out what other banks around the world have worked out, which means they are closing because our banks haven’t worked out how to get people in them. Mr Osborne actually had the audacity to then add: “I’ve been keen to ensure that an agreement is being worked out with the Chelford Post Office to allow customers to withdraw cash, pay money in, check balances and pay bills free of charge.” This is grade A Italian sausage. This agreement with Post Offices is being thrashed out nationwide and is NOT live yet. Then finally he said: “I am working hard to ensure that these important facilities continue for local customers at the village Post Office.” Really? How hard? As hard as reading out a speech at a conference in front of what David Cameron – your boss, my MP, our PM – calls the “backbone of Britain”, small businesses, which was seemingly simply a wishlist to impress on the day. George you simply fell at the first.

Talking of backbones I recently read a fabulous quote: “replace your wishbone, with a backbone”. I am not sure there is a better way to sum up the hollow words of a wishlist Mr Osborne used to the FSB, but I am sure that as our communities, with myriad small businesses in them, lose extremely important assets for our long term welfare we should most definitely all being going Clive Dunn and racing around shouting: “Don’t panic…Don’t panic”.

Got any comments? Please add your opinion to the debate here: campaign@community-buying.com and see the good work of those working to save our banks here: http://www.communitybanking.org.uk.

Why is this is so important? Because it just isn’t right.