'Retail banks are community services'

TUC 2023: Unite delegate Vanessa Williams urges fightback against bank branch closures

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Speaking on behalf of Unite members in the finance and legal sector, Unite delegate Vanessa Williams gave an impassioned speech in support of a composite on financial services on the last day of Congress on Wednesday (September 13).

She told Congress that the composite “outlines the impact of an industry which prioritises profiteering over communities and workers”.

Highlighting “a steady drum beat of announcements of bank branch closures” since the financial crash, Vanessa noted that this year alone Lloyds has announced 22 branch closures, following on from 66 last year and 18 more from Halifax.

“They join the ever-growing casualty list,” she added, going on to highlight the 114 HSBC branches shuttered this year, as well as 68 Barclays branches and 52 Natwest branches.

“All told, 5,162 bank and building society branches closed in the UK since 2015,” Vanessa said. “This is not a retreat from the high street – it is a complete abandonment.”

She went on to highlight a retail banking industry “where unchecked digitisation means work is ever intensified; where AI means surveillance of workers runs rampant; and where swathes of the population are frozen out and forgotten.”

Vanessa highlighted statistics showing that 65 per cent of UK consumers report they need regular access to cash and ATMs — including those over 65 who are more reliant on access to cash to pay for bills and other essentials.

“This is why Unite supports calls for Universal Service Obligation, which would legally oblige banks to provide cash in additional to digital offerings,” she added.

Vanessa emphasised that finance “is not a declining industry”.

“The banks are – digitally — coining it in,” she noted, adding that since the pandemic the top banks have made more money than at any point since the financial crash.

She told Congress that Unite finance workers are fighting back.  

“Through our Combine and in our workplaces, we are taking on low pay and digitisation,” Vanessa said.

Urging Congress to support the composite, she called it “an important next step — to return retail banks as community services for the many, and not profiteering for the few”.

By Hajera Blagg

Photo by Mark Thomas