Buses and Banks. They both begin with the letter B and you would be forgiven for assuming that this is where the similarity ends...
In Chester though, buses and banks share a common problem that we are seeing with other services to the public.
I recently wrote to three of the four main banks about their decision to close local branches in Hoole, forcing customers to go into the town centre and – a particular bugbear of mine – making it harder for local businesses to access quick banking services without having to leave their shops for too long.
I suggested we run an experiment in Chester with a couple of what I call ‘community banking hubs’ where the main banks share facilities – and costs – to maintain a high street presence in local shopping areas like Hoole and possibly Saltney.
Banking is changing. More people use internet and phone banking.
But if you’re running a small business, you can’t pay cash in via a computer. Furthermore, many pensioners don’t have internet banking so need easy access to local banks.
Which brings me to buses. Many Chester residents still need good bus services. Villagers in Guilden Sutton are losing one of their vital links into town – the number 27 that also runs through Piper’s Ash, Hoole, passed the flats at Francis Street and into town.
And a couple of months ago residents in Handbridge were appalled at the changes to the Dee Bee service.
Again, for pensioners especially but not exclusively, these services are a lifeline. They allow independent living, access to services, friends and family.
I don’t like it when bus services are just run for the benefit of bus companies and not the bus users. Like banks, these are businesses and I get that they must make money, but surely there has to be a social angle to the service beyond the bottom line of the company.
I think that high street banks have a duty to support the small businesses that their advertising claims they’re committed to.
I think bus companies have an obligation to serve all residents – especially in rural areas – which may not be profitable but still need good bus services.
And I believe there is absolutely a role for government to stand up for the people it serves, and step in when markets or private providers fail. We have to be able to say “you can’t treat ordinary people like this and you must now respect our rules.”
The best way to win back people’s faith in politics is to show that the government – or their MP or council – will stand up for them.
To make the system work for the people, and not the people work for the system.