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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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Newgale: New £30m road proposed to combat coastal damage

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has revealed a preferred new route for a road around Newgale today (Sept 25) at an event in Roch.

The new stretch of road would begin at Pencym and end at a new roundabout near Roch.

A new route is needed due to fears about road closures during high tides and winds, as well as coastal damage caused by global warming.

Reports have suggested that the current Newgale road may not exist in 20 years times.

The new route could cost up to £30m – compared to £40m a proposed viaduct would cost – and would need funding from the Welsh Government.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Transport officials will continue to work closely with the authority as they progress with their studies and firm up their proposals for addressing the current problems with the A487.

“Welsh Government is open to consider an application for funding to move forward the development work.”

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MP calls on Welsh Government to explain broadband delays

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STEPHEN CRABB has called on the Welsh Government to come clean over broadband rollout delays.

Minister Julie James AM, whose responsibilities include digital infrastructure and inclusion, has been urged to explain the reasons for delays to the rollout of superfast broadband to rural properties across Wales.

Last year, the Superfast Cymru scheme saw BT receive £425m in return for connecting the vast majority of premises in Wales to next-generation broadband.

When the contract ended, 90,000 mainly rural properties still had not been connected. Further details of another scheme to complete the work were due to be announced in July, but at the start of August, Julie James AM suddenly announced that ‘unforeseen issues’ were causing delays which could not be further discussed because of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said: “It’s simply unacceptable for the Minister responsible to announce delays to the next stage of Broadband rollout but refuse to explain why. Access to reliable, fast broadband is of increasing importance to businesses, large and small, in Pembrokeshire and I have worked with many across the constituency to improve their broadband access.

“However, the digital divide continues to exist with rural communities in Pembrokeshire suffering again. It is an inescapable fact that delivery of broadband infrastructure is devolved to the Welsh Government and Julie James AM should now come forward and explain the reasons for these delays.”

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Air ambulance lands at ‘serious’ crash scene

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THE WALES AIR AMBULANCE has landed at the scene of a serious crash this morning (Sept 25) between the Sentry Cross and Honeyborough roundabouts on the A477.

Posts on Facebook from witnesses at the scene say a man is being treated by paramedics.

Police have said one car was involved in the incident.

In addition to the helicopter, Dyfed-Powys Police, the Welsh Ambulance Service and Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service are at the scene.

The road is currently closed with diversions in place.

A police spokesperson said:  “Dyfed-Powys Police is at the scene of a serious RTC between the Sentry Cross and Honeyborough roundabouts, Pembrokeshire.

“The A477 stretch between those roundabouts is currently closed while emergency services deal with the incident. One car is involved; the driver has received serious injuries.

“No further information is available at this time.”

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