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NatWest branches to close across the county

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THERE are more bank closures expected across the county following an announcement by RBS this morning (Dec 1) that NatWest will be closing branches in Milford Haven, Narberth, Pembroke and Cardigan.

The Pembroke branch closes on May 21 next year, with Cardigan shutting on May 30, Milford Haven on June 21 and Narberth on June 28.

In total, 259 branches are closing across the UK, with a loss of 680 jobs.

RBS have cited the increasing trend of online banking as the main reason behind the decision.

A spokesperson for the banking group said: “The way people bank with us has changed radically over the last few years: since 2014, the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40%.

“During the same period mobile transactions have increased by 73%; and in the first half of 2017, there were 1.1 billion mobile and online transactions carried out by our customers: an increase of 41% since 2014.”

In Milford Haven, the announcement follows the recent closures of HSBC and Lloyds Bank. The closure means that Barclays is now the only remaining high street branch in Hamilton Terrace.

Stephen Crabb MP said: “NatWest customers in Milford Haven will feel deeply let down by this decision. Although more and more banking services are moving online, many customers still prefer the face-to-face interaction of going to their local branch. It is some comfort that NatWest customers can pay money in, take money out and check balances in the local Post Office, but it is still very disappointing to know NatWest is leaving Milford.

“There is currently a flight of banks from smaller town centres all across Britain as they seek to cut their costs and move more services online. Given the important role they play for local communities, there is a big question here about what kind of branch network will be left in rural areas in years to come. I have written to the Chief Executive of NatWest to express my concern about this and seek clarification of how they intend to treat the staff currently working at the Milford Haven branch. I hope there will no compulsory redundancies.”

Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman, said: “Bank branches are still vital to local economies up and down the country. Many local business communities will be disappointed to hear they are losing their bank branch today.

“Almost all of our members are using online banking. However, small firms still hugely value the in-person support they receive at branches, particularly when it comes to completing complex transactions and making big financial decisions. For many, these are relationships that have built up over years.

“In areas of the country still blighted by poor broadband, accessing online banking is a challenge. What’s critical is that small business owners that rely on bank branches are provided with suitable alternatives well before closures happen. What we can’t have is banks shutting branches on a whim, especially at a time when plans are afoot that may diminish our cash machine network in future.

“Access to cash is a big issue here. Cash is still critical to trade in thousands of our towns and villages, especially in tourist hotspots and rural areas. More and more small firms are accepting card payments but that comes with costs they’re forced to absorb. Equally, many have customers that only deal in cash.”

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The closure of those 20 banks will have a detrimental effect on the towns, as they serve not only villages but many of the neighbourhoods in surrounding areas, as well as providing employment to local people.

“These banks are 70% owned by the UK taxpayer, so we have to ask why are there no conditions to the bailout that guarantees access to such services. It is clear that Governments must do more for rural Wales.”

In addition the FUW is concerned that internet banking is still not option in all rural areas across Wales as many people will not have an appropriate internet connection- if they have a connection at all, and others may be worried about banking online for cyber security reasons.

“We have run cyber security workshops in co-operation with Barclays bank over the past few months, which should help our members become more savvy internet bankers, however the problem of internet access remains a huge problem for these rural areas.

“With more and more rural services and businesses being closed down, we must also acknowledge that it is becoming less and less attractive for young families and indeed business owners to remain in rural areas.

“If the problem of rural depopulation is not addressed with some urgency it could have severe consequences for our rural communities and with that also our rural economy.

“It is clear that if we want to ensure that Wales develops its full potential in being a rural economic powerhouse, we must make it attractive for working families to stay and also encourage vital services like business banking to remain available.”

Eluned Morgan AM said: “The news that 8 NatWest branches will be closing in my region is extremely concerning when economic conditions are so tough.  For a bank, owned in the main by tax-payers, this is a terrible decision that will have a big impact on some of my most rural communities.

“I have already written to the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Ken Skates over closures by other banks and will be speaking with him in the coming days to speak up for towns like Narberth, Pembroke and Milford Haven who are directly affected by this latest announcement.”

Paul Davies AM added: “I’m very disappointed that yet another bank will be closing its doors to a community in Pembrokeshire.  Whilst I accept that the face of modern banking has changed somewhat over the years, there is still a need for banks to have a high street presence, so that vulnerable and less mobile customers are able to access their banking facilities.

“Families and businesses in rural areas across Wales will particularly suffer because these communities don’t always have a suitable internet connection. Therefore, it’s important that banking provisions are made suitably available to rural communities and I will of course be raising these issues with NatWest at the earliest opportunity.”

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‘Reach out to friends and family’ says Council Leader

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THIS week’s update from Cllr David Simpson, Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council:

‘Hello everyone, I hope you are all keeping well and safe.

‘I’d like to highlight that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week.

‘I’m very aware that the last 15 months has had a huge impact on our lives and, in some cases, our wellbeing.

‘Mental Health can be a hidden issue and we all need to be aware that some people may need some extra support.

‘On a personal level the lockdown restrictions have reminded me of the importance to talk to people and to ensure people are supported.

‘Supporting your friends and family can be as simple as a phone call to say hello. A quick hello can ensure people are ok and managing and can give someone a huge uplift.

“Our communities have done a fantastic job of supporting each other so please, Team Pembrokeshire, continue these efforts.

‘I urge you all to pick up the phone and say hello to your friends and family, as we all need to play our role in everyone’s wellbeing – talking about issues does make a difference.

‘If you are suffering from Mental Health or general wellbeing issues please reach out, do not struggle on your own, your friends and family can help and make a difference.

‘Please also take the opportunity to also view the website at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week which has much more information and support.

‘I now want to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in last week’s elections.

‘Elections take a phenomenal amount of organisation at the best of times but even more so in a pandemic situation.

‘To all those who ensured the smooth running of the elections process, thank you.

‘Congratulations to all the successful candidates and I look forward to working with them to further improve the lives of Pembrokeshire people.

‘We have now had further updates from Welsh Government and the next phase of the unlocking road map has been unveiled.

‘From Monday, 17th May, indoor hospitality can re-open.

‘Up to six people from six different households will be able to meet indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants.

‘We have so many fantastic hospitality venues in Pembrokeshire who we know will be giving their customers a big welcome after so long away.

‘The opening of indoor hospitality will be a major landmark in our emergence from the pandemic and towards recovery.

‘While out and about please remember social distancing rules are still in pace, consider your actions on others, remember your footprint has an impact on our communities, so please tread lightly.

‘When you go home, leave with a smile – enjoy your days out, enjoy seeing your families and most importantly enjoy our beautiful county and please support us in keeping Pembrokeshire special – play your part and please be responsible.

‘I want to wish you all a lovely weekend and I look forward to talking to you all again next week through my update.

‘Thank you everyone.’

You can keep up to date with all the Council’s press releases here: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/newsroom

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Plan to rescue rare butterfly from extinction in Pembrokeshire

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE Coast National Park Authority is stepping up efforts to save the marsh fritillary butterfly, which was once widespread in Wales but is now close to extinction in Pembrokeshire.

Funded by the Pembrokeshire Nature Partnership, the new landscape scale strategy aims to improve the fortunes of the rare species, which relies on networks of flower rich marshy grasslands across the landscape.

Much of this habitat, which is home to the favourite food of its larva – the devil’s bit scabious (succisa pratensis), has been lost due to drainage, inappropriate tree planting and the neglect of traditional management of grasslands through light grazing with heavy animals such as cattle.

National Park AuthorityBiodiversity Officer, Sarah Mellor said: “The marsh fritillary in Pembrokeshire is now in a very precarious position. We think it has already become extinct in a number of areas in its former range and it has not been seen on the St Davids Peninsula since 2013. The population around Keeston and Tiers Cross is also now thought to be extinct.

“We must find a way to make space for wildlife in our landscape to ensure that nature can thrive for future generations. It is quite sobering to think this species could disappear from Pembrokeshire in my lifetime. We have a responsibility not to let this happen on our watch.

“Even in those areas where it remains we have seen dramatic declines, for example around Mychanchlogddu it used to be recorded from 32 sites, but since 2015 it has only been seen at seven sites.”

The National Park Authority has already stepped up its action to rescue the rare butterfly by assisting landowners to bring sites into suitable management through grant aid and providing suitable grazing animals through the Pembrokeshire Grazing Network and the Conserving the Park Scheme.

The new strategy will include mobilising Park Authority staff and volunteers to undertake targeted surveys at sites across the county, as well as helping landowners to manage their land in a sensitive way to help ensure the future of this rare butterfly.

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Santander turns away customers due to nationwide computer glitch

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CUSTOMERS of Santander in Haverfordwest were being turned away this morning by branch staff saying that they were unable to make transactions due to a computer glitch. It is understood that branches use the same computer systems which run the bank’s other systems.

Problems arouse last night when computer updates which the bank was implementing did not go to plan.

Some Herald readers contacted the news room to speak of their surprise that they were not able to access their funds.

One reader, who had gone to the bank to withdraw funds to pay rent on his home was told that there was nothing that could be done.

Website and App transactions are also being affected at the high street bank, and card transactions are being declined

The head of money at consumer magazine Which?, Gareth Shaw, said many customers will be stressed, “with people reporting that they have been unable to make online payments or in some cases purchase food in their local supermarket”.

“Customers can incur fines, penalties and fees when they’re not able to access their finances, so the bank must offer compensation to all those who have been impacted in this way”.

Santander told customers they can “access cash from other banks’ ATMs, at the Post Office and can get cashback where that’s available”.

A service status page on its website said planned maintenance was due to be performed on the Santander mobile banking app overnight on Friday. It is not known whether this prompted Saturday’s problems.

On Twitter, a Santander spokesperson said: “We’re sorry that a technical problem is affecting our services, our teams are working hard to fix it.

“You can access cash from other banks’ ATMs. Please check back here for further updates.”

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