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Statement by the Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething: Supporting the creation of a Community Bank for Wales

The Minister for Economy has announced that The Welsh Government is working with Monmouthshire Building Society to accelerate the establishment and roll-out of a community bank - Banc Cambria - across Wales.

By Rhodri McDonagh · 14 December 2021

See this page in: Cymraeg

The UK has one of the least diverse retail banking systems in Europe. It is dominated by a small number of very large banks. These banks operate according to a traditional shareholder value business model that seeks to maximise profits for their owners. Retail high street banks, as we know, are retreating from many of our high dtreets at an ever-increasing and alarming pace. According to Office for National Statistics data, the number of bank branches in the UK has fallen by 4,390, or 39 per cent, between 2012 and 2021. The consumer magazine Which? estimates that by the end of 2022 only 277 bank and building society branches will remain in Wales.

Our programme for government commitment to support the creation of a community bank for Wales seeks to address this market failure in relation to the gap in provision, effectiveness and access to quality banking services in Wales. Our vision for the community bank for Wales is one that is based on the mutual model, owned by, and run for, the benefit of its members rather than the maximisation of profit for shareholders. It will be a modern, full-service community bank, headquartered in Wales. It will provide access to bilingual products and services through a range of channels including digital, online and in-branch.

The bank will facilitate local investment and enhance community wealth building, recirculating savings into loans and preventing capital drain. It will provide a positive impact on communities and high streets, improving access to everyday banking services for all citizens regardless of income or wealth, as well as, of course, small businesses across the whole of Wales.

As a Government, we are however alert to the significant challenges of establishing a community bank. Whilst there are a number of community banks in development across the UK, no community bank has yet been established. Start-up co-operative and mutual banks face increased challenges compared to their shareholder-model banking counterparts. This is particularly the case in respect of securing development and regulatory capital, which make entry and organic growth difficult. In addition, banking sector legislative and regulatory competencies are reserved matters. We are therefore reliant on the alignment and ambition of private sector firms who share our vision and ethos in order to establish and operate a community bank for Wales.

Since our work to support the creation of a community bank for Wales was first explored, traditional high street banks have further accelerated their retreat from our high streets. Now more than ever, an increasing number of communities across Wales are left without physical access to what we consider should be an essential public service. The impact of this retreat is not universal, with rural communities and those individuals and businesses across Wales who are more reliant upon cash and face-to-face relationship banking being hit the hardest.

Despite the many high-profile community campaigns supported by members across the political colouring of the Senedd, traditional banks have continued to close branches. I welcome the continued cross-party support for the creation of a community bank for Wales and acknowledge that Members’ questions are understandably increasingly focussed on the delivery timescales, branch roll-out plans, and products and services to be offered by the community bank. Those questions reflect the needs and concerns of communities in Members’ constituencies across the breadth of Wales.

Over the past two years the Welsh Government has supported exploratory work undertaken by Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd, a co-operative society established to explore the creation of Banc Cambria as the community bank for Wales. This work has been crucial in informing the delivery strategy of Banc Cambria, and consequently the development of its relationship with an existing financial institution. What I am announcing today reaffirms our belief that this approach has a greater potential to deliver a viable and sustainable community bank. This approach also aligns with the recommendations made in the ‘Access to Banking’ report by the Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in October 2019. We believe that this approach supports collaboration across the sector, reduces the risks and minimises the costs to the public purse, and increases the pace at which the development and safe launch of Banc Cambria can be delivered.

Last week, the First Minister, the Minister for Social Justice and I met with the teams behind Banc Cambria to discuss the progress made, next steps and areas where Welsh Government support can best be deployed to enhance the pace of development and delivery. I am delighted to update and inform Members, and welcome today’s announcement from the Monmouthshire Building Society stating its intent to develop its approach to delivering a community bank in Wales. Delivery of a community bank is a good fit for the Welsh mutual that is headquartered in Newport. They’ve been serving and supporting members and communities across south and west Wales to save and flourish for over 150 years. As a mutual, they are already a purpose-led organisation, providing communities with access to financial help and support in locations that are convenient for them.

Whilst there is still much work to be done, with key milestones and further decision points ahead for both the Welsh Government, the society and Cambria Cydfuddiannol, we remain committed to providing all appropriate and necessary support in order to help accelerate the establishment and roll-out of Banc Cambria across Wales. It is now appropriate for the Monmouthshire Building Society to lead on the communications and update on the project as it progresses. We acknowledge and agree that the development of robust, secure and compliant systems are paramount for the society, its existing members and future members of Banc Cambria. I will meet the society and Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd regularly to keep abreast of progress and understand where our support can add most value. I will, of course, update Members as appropriate following key decision points. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.

picture of Vaughan Gething

Vaughan Gething is the Minister for Economy and Member of the Welsh Parliament for Cardiff South and Penarth