The current global health crisis has, more than ever, highlighted the urgent need for not just international action but for strong national and community-based action. Whilst the full scope of the coronavirus has yet to be investigated, one thing is certain – that Britain’s response was far from the best in the world.
Whether it be missing out on getting PPE from France because of a late order and a naivety that the French government would use all the national recourses it could to the bizarrely confusing advice over schools, masks and a plethora of other things, Britain has failed to lead the world. Yet one thing that the government has got right is to realise that to empower local councils to deal with localised outbreaks when they occur will ensure that different communities can feel that they are in control of their circumstances.
This is an approach that can and should be targeted at another failure of government – the erosion of local banks in communities. Whilst since the financial crisis of 2008 the opinion of many people is that banks are not only bad but unnecessary, this does nothing to help communities that need them. The ability to control your own money is, one would suppose, a tenant of conservatism yet the Conservative Party has done more harm to local communities in the past decade than any other. They have witnessed an exodus of banks, local shops and the Post Office from the high streets of many communities and yet done nothing to prevent it.
Local businesses need access to money to ensure that they can continue to function and by removing local branches and driving more transactions online they are ensuring that companies that are based in communities are becoming not only more isolated but in effect stripped of their economic independence. The instance that companies need to move online is reductionist as it assumes that every individual has access to broadband.
Not only do 5% of people in Britain have no access to broadband of any kind many more have poor or substandard access, often in the poorest communities. Similarly, the lack of local banks hits communities that have little access to card machines or cashpoint, ensuring that communities become more and more isolated.
Does the government want towns and villages to become mere satellites of cities or will it make the banking sector realise the importance of local branches? In a time when the likelihood of another recession is fast approaching due to coronavirus pandemic it is imperative that communities are ready to not only weather the economic storm but ensure they push back against it. Ready availability to banks in their communities without having to expend money on petrol, diesel or public transport will help ordinary people immensely.
Currently the Labour Party is not focussing on this issue either and it is a mistake. Whilst arguments about grand economic policies are all well and good, most people would prefer to hear about how their communities can succeed and, in some cases, feel a sense of control returned to them from central government – a key feature of the momentum behind Brexit. By supporting a campaign to get banks to focus on ordinary communities rather than their shareholders, Labour would not only impress its own activists but those voters in seats across the country it lost last December.
Banks may not be something we like to think about. Thanks to decades of mistrust, there no longer is the friendly image of the bank manager – for us a bank manager is to be seen as akin to Gordon Gecko rather than Mr Banks. Yet this does not diminish the necessity of them to our economic system and it would be foolish to ignore them. We can and we must ensure that communities have access to the money to make them succeed – now, more than ever.