The UK’s high-street banks have taken the unprecedented step of agreeing to meet community groups fighting the closure of inner-city branches.
The move is the culmination of a two-year campaign by the Citizens’ Organising Foundation (COF), an umbrella group representing inner-city organisations, and follows the intervention of Bank of England governor Eddie George, who met the banks last year (MW August 12 1999).
The meeting will take place in Stratford Town Hall, East London, on July 25, with senior representatives from each of the eight high-street banks – Lloyds TSB, Barclays, NatWest, HSBC, Abbey National, Halifax, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland.
The COF, which has members in East London, Merseyside, Bristol, Sheffield, the Black Country and Wales, is calling on the banks to agree to a five-year pilot scheme to help local businesses, and in turn the local economy.
The group wants the banks to offer a range of services, including low-interest long-term loans, to enable businesses to generate income for some of the most deprived areas of the UK.
COF director Neil Jameson says: “Banks must recognise they have a responsibility not to abandon local communities. Governmental and European Union grant schemes undermine deprived areas because they need to be constantly renewed. The only way to help people is through real, sustained growth, and that will only come from strong local businesses.
“In some areas of East London, for instance, there are whole communities with no access to cash. How can businesses survive in that sort of environment?”
Jameson believes the results of the pilot scheme will also benefit rural areas, which have been decimated by Barclays branch cutbacks.