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Banks closures put businesses on the brink

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Banks are ‘turning their backs’ on small communities: Marc Tierney

Banks are ‘turning their backs’ on
small communities: Marc Tierney

THE CLOSURE of banks across rural Wales continues apace as, despite evidence that loss of banking services disproportionately affects small communities and their businesses, high street banks desert towns and villages. Derek French of the Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) said: “Communities are having to get used to a new environment where, following the government approved Access to Banking Protocol, which has applied to all branch closures announced after May 1, all that can be expected from engagement with the closing bank is some limited post closure provision for banking needs and early signs are that this is inadequate for many.”

28 towns and villages are now without any banks, with some people having to drive up to eight miles to their nearest branch Substantial settlements like Whitland in Carmarthenshire have seen banks withdraw and only piecemeal services replacing them. Speaking to The Herald, Labour candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in next May’s Assembly elections, said: “The decisions taken by Barclays and now NatWest to close their branches in St. Clears means customers will have to travel much further, to either Carmarthen or Narberth, for the full range of banking services. “I worry of the effect these closures will have on existing businesses in the town and the added costs local businesses will have to bear when doing their banking. “Just last year NatWest closed in Whitland, merging with St. Clears when customers were assured services would continue to be offered relatively close by. These large, highly profitable banks are turning their backs on rural Welsh communities without any form of consultation with customers or care for the effect on the wider community.” Mr Tierney concluded: “I know that the way people bank is changing. To cut costs, the banks have encouraged us to use online and phone banking which I accept is practical for some.

“But for many older people, those reliant on public transport and for local businesses the options put forward by the banks to access counter services are not a suitable alternative.” The FT notes that ‘The acceleration in the pace of bank branch closures risks hitting local retailers hard as customers without easy access to cash go elsewhere to do their shopping’. That certainly appears to have been the case in Llandovery, where banking hours have been progressively cut so that services are only part time. As a result, retail footfall in the town centre has declined. Across England and Wales, banks closed 500 branches last year — more than double the year before — and are on track for at least 650 closures in 2015. 1,500 communities have lost all the banks in their town and 840 are left with only one bank, with market towns and seaside communities the worst hit. While banks claim to carefully consider cuts to banking services in rural communities, their repeated insistence that an ageing rural population does more and more of its banking online is not borne out by individual experiences.

One bank customer, Annie Eveson, told The Herald: “I don’t have a computer, I don’t use email. I have a bank card, but nowhere accepts cheques anymore. How can I get my money out of the bank when even the Post Office has closed?” Age Cymru said having a local bank that was convenient for older people was “vital” for ensuring they did not become socially isolated. Graeme Francis, the charity’s head of policy and public affairs, said older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures. “We know that around one in five older people regularly give their bank card and pin number to someone else they know, often a family member or a domiciliary care worker, to get money for them,” he said. “And whilst most people would be very trustworthy in that situation, it does clearly open a risk of financial abuse up for people. “So there are real safety concerns that go along with a reduction in services.”

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Station Road: Off-licence refused alcohol licence

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AN OFF-LICENCE on Llanelli’s Station Road has been refused an alcohol licence by Carmarthenshire County Council after councillors decided it could add to the area’s crime and disorder problems.

The Licensing Committee’s decision has been upheld after the applicant, who runs the shop Kubus, appealed to the courts.

The applicant, Aram Mahmood, had asked the council for permission to sell alcohol at his shop between 9am and 9pm Monday to Sunday.

However councillors felt that granting the licence would contravene the authority’s Cumulative Impact Policy, which creates a presumption against the granting of premises licences in the Station Road area, due to anti-social behaviour and alcohol-fuelled crime issues.

A Dyfed Powys Police representative said Station Road is still identified as a crime and disorder hot spot, and a Drinking in Public Places Order (DPPO) is in place.

During April 2017 and March 2018, 164 anti-social behaviour incidents were recorded in Station Road, over a quarter having occurred within licensed premises.

A fifth of all related crime and 13 per cent of all alcohol related anti-social behavior incidents recorded in Llanelli town occurred in Station Road.

Over 40 alcohol related violent crimes were also recorded there during the same period.

Although there are now fewer premises selling alcohol in Station Road, statistics show there is still a high level of alcohol related crime and disorder in the area.

The applicant told the committee that his main customers were families wishing to buy Polish and European foods and products.

He told councillors he had ordered a CCTV system and assured them that the management of alcohol would be well controlled by staff, though believed that his customers would not cause problems.

The licensing committee’s decision was upheld following the applicant’s appeal to Llanelli Magistrates Court.

Justices found that there was no evidence of exceptional reasons to justify departing from the Cumulative Impact Policy and were satisfied with the committee’s decision.

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Cllr Kevin Madge elected as new county council Chairman

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THE new chair of Carmarthenshire County Council said he will work tirelessly during his term of office.

Cllr Kevin Madge, member for Garnant, takes the chain of office whilst celebrating 40 years as a councillor.

Taking the chair, Cllr Madge paid tribute to outgoing chairman Cllr Mansel Charles, member for Llanegwad, saying he had fulfilled his duties with passion.

Cllr Madge will chair the council for the next 12 months, with Cllr Ieuan Davies, member for Llanybydder, as his vice chair, and his wife Catrin as his consort.

“I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead, I will do my best for everyone. I will work tirelessly,” he said.

Cllr Madge has chosen the Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks and emergency food provision for people in crisis, as his Chairman’s Charity of the Year.

The Chair is the first citizen of Carmarthenshire County Council, and is elected at the Annual General Meeting.

Duties include chairing full meetings of the council, representing the council at formal and ceremonial occasions, welcoming visitors to the county, and attending and supporting events organised by local people and organisations.

Cllr Madge has been a county councillor since 1996, and a member of Cwmaman Town Council since 1979.

He also serves as chairman of the Royal British Legion Garnant branch, Garnant Family Centre and Cwmaman Meals on Wheels, and is a member of Amman Valley League of Friends.

He represents the county council on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, and the Mynydd y Betws Wind Farm Community Fund, and is on the governing body of Ysgol Y Bedol.

A former pupil of Amman Valley School, Cllr Madge has worked in the Amman Valley throughout his life, most recently as agent and researcher to Dr Alan Williams MP until 2001.

A keen football supporter, he has served as chair and president of Cwmaman Football Club and spent 25 years as a Welsh League and Neath and District football referee.

He is married with two children and three grandchildren.

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‘UK Government should work with the Welsh Labour Government on Tata’

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LOCAL Assembly Member Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said ““This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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