Three Greenwich and Lewisham MPs joined forces this afternoon to condemn the Nationwide Building Society’s decision to close seven branches in south-east London from May.
Nick Raynsford secured a short debate on the organisation’s plans to close offices in Blackheath, Catford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Peckham, Walworth and Woolwich, a decision he branded “shocking”.
“A quick look at the map will reveal the scale and enormity of what Nationwide is doing,” the Greenwich and Woolwich MP said.
“All 7 branches inside the South Circular Road will close, while all the branches outside will remain open. Leafy outer south-east London is favoured while inner south-east London is punished.”
Comparing the population of the areas affected with that of large cities outside London, he added: “Suggesting that an organisation the size of Nationwide would pull out of Manchester and Sheffield would be regarded as bizarre.”
He also spoke of the history of the Greenwich branch, which can trace its roots back to London’s first recorded building society in 1809.
Mr Raynsford said he had raised the issue with Nationwide executive Matthew Wyles, but found his response “shocking”, and that the mutual was unwilling to reconsider its decision.
Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander admitted she had orginally given Nationwide “the benefit of the doubt”, believing the closures were part of a far larger programme. “My initial generosity of spitit turned into complete disbelief,” she continued.
“It seems to come down to transaction patterns. They aren’t as profitable in south-east London as they are elsewhere. Nationwide sees customers with a SE postcode as a drag on their business.”
Ms Alexander said she had put the possibility that the Lewisham branch could remain open to Matthew Wyles, but had been told it would “topple over” under the demand. “‘A vortex effect’ were the words he used,” she said.
“Ours are not the parts of London where people have easy access to the internet,” she continued. “There is a reason why I have 40 people come to my advice surgery. They want to see a human being because it’s easier.”
Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock said Nationwide had behaved with “complete contempt” for local customers. On Nationwide’s claims that it could not find larger premises in Lewisham, she said: “They can’t have been looking very far, I found two eminently suitable premises close by.”
For the government, financial secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban said Nationwide’s decions were a matter for the building society. But he added the government was committed to making sure all current accounts could be operated through post offices, and to introduce closer links between post offices and credit unions to make sure all people had easy access to financial services.