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The Lowdown Hub

Scottish banking pilot offers hope to UK high streets without branchesLenders join forces with Post

Cambuslang was one of two locations in the UK chosen to host a BankHub © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/FT

When Cambuslang in Scotland lost the last of its bank branches four years ago, it hit the town centre hard.

“Three [banks] leaving at one time decimated the high street,” said Angeline Coyle, owner of The Tea Bay café in the town of 28,000 people, south-east of Glasgow. All of them closed within the space of 18 months, a trend mirrored across the UK over the past decade.

The closures severely affected footfall in Cambuslang. “A lot of people used to come and collect their pensions there, but when there was no reason to come down they didn’t visit,” Coyle lamented.

It also made it much harder for her to do business. “I had to travel to the bank in the next town to deposit cash, which meant taking two hours out of my day or asking my mum to carry loads of money,” she explained. “We’re only building back now.”

Coyle attributed her optimism in large part to the success of a banking pilot scheme in the town — a rare collaborative effort between the state-owned Post Office and Britain’s largest retail banks. Cambuslang was one of two locations in the UK chosen to host a shared branch, branded “BankHub”.

The two pilots proved the most popular among a number of initiatives launched at the start of 2021 aimed at preserving access to cash, according to a report by Natalie Ceeney, who oversaw all the projects as chair of the Community Access to Cash Pilots initiative.

The increasing use of digital banking and a sharp fall in cash payments during the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a trend of branch closures and ATMs over the past decade. It is an issue that affects the elderly, vulnerable people and small business owners in particular.

Since 2012, the number of bank branches in the UK has fallen from 11,355 to just 6,965 in October 2021, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. A recent analysis by Which? identified almost 1,000 branches would close in 2021 and 2022.