Yet another bank branch earmarked for the chop

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The axe is set to fall on yet another Wigan bank branch.

The latest victim of the remorseless march of technology will be the Barclays outlet within the Asda hypermarket at Newtown.

It is one of another 54 branches it is planning to close down in the coming weeks and Newtown will cash its final cheque on October 27. The move will bring its total number of Barclays closures in 2017 to 67 across the UK.

In a statement, the bank said along with a number of high street lenders, the closures are linked to the growing demand for digital services – such as the increasing shift towards immediate online and app banking facilities. A spokesman confirmed the closures will not result in any job losses, adding:

“The number of physical Barclays branches will reduce overall but our branch network and the colleagues who work in them remain a vital part of our offering. We will continue to evolve the shape and size of our branch network, as well as improving and investing in the experience in-branch.

We also provide our customers with a range of digital channels.” There was a time when there was a bank to be found in every modest-sized Wigan community upwards – sometimes several per town and village. But it was as early as the mid-1990s that branch closures began, one of the first being the NatWest in Shevington.

Few townships have been spared since as transactions are increasingly carried out digitally. According to consumer platform Which?, over 1,000 high street bank branches were axed between January 2015 and January 2017 alone, with HSBC the worst offender.


World’s biggest banks face £264bn bill for poor conduct

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Costs for 20 financial institutions for the five years to 2016 are higher than in the previous period, with RBS and Lloyds in top five

Fines, legal bills and the cost of compensating mistreated customers reached £264bn for 20 of the world’s biggest banks over the five years to 2016, according to new research that raises doubts about efforts by the major financial services players to restore trust in the sector.

This figure is higher than in the previous five-year period – when the costs amounted to £252bn – and is up 32% on the period 2008-12, the first time the data was collated by the CCP Research Foundation, one of the few bodies that analyses the “conduct costs” of banks.

The report said the data showed that 10 years on from the onset of the financial crisis, the consequences of misconduct continue to hang over the banking sector.

The latest analysis shows that in 2016 the total amount put aside by the banks surveyed rose to more than £28.6bn – higher than in the previous year when there had been a fall from a peak of £63bn in 2014.

Chris Stears, research director of the foundation, writes in the latest report: “Trust in, and the trustworthiness of, the banks must surely correlate to, and be conditional on, banks’ conduct costs. And persistent level of conduct cost provisioning is worrying.

“It remains to be seen whether or not the provisions will crystallise in 2017 [or later] and what effect this will have on the aggregated level of conduct costs.”

Two UK high street banks – Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – are in the top five of banks with the biggest conduct costs.

RBS set aside extra provisions for fines and legal costs largely related to a forthcoming penalty from the US Department of Justice for mis-selling toxic bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis.

That residential mortgage bond securitisation mis-selling scandal is responsible for £66bn of the costs incurred during the five-year period and the single largest factor, according to the foundation.

The payment protection insurance scandal, which is the main reason Lloyds Banking Group is in the list, caused the banks to set aside £27bn during the period. Lloyds has set aside more than £17bn to tackle the mis-selling of PPI.

Roger McCormick, managing director of the foundation, said: “It’s reasonable to assume that the long-running sorry tale of payments and provisions for PPI must come to an end eventually although UK banks made additional provisions for PPI mis-selling of more than £1.5bn midway through 2017.”

The foundation uses five-year rolling periods to try to provide a long-term analysis of the costs that banks face to rectify past mistakes, a major theme of the last 10 years, when they were also hit by penalties for rigging foreign exchange markets and interest rates (Libor).

“As has been the case since the first table, we find ourselves wondering when, if ever, the level of conduct costs will start to decrease,” said McCormick.

He noted that the 2016 figures showed a rapid decline in fines from the Financial Conduct Authority, which issued fines worth £819m in the first six months of 2015 alone, as a result of the market-rigging scandals.

Top of the table are major US banks Bank of America, which dominates the table because of its previous bill for the toxic bond mis-selling scandal, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

The figures include money set aside for future penalties by the 20 banks and fines and other costs they have incurred to tackle regulatory and legal claims.

Stears said there would not be zero conduct costs but added: “The question is at what average level will these costs settle? And, moreover, is that level acceptable to the banks, their shareholders and the public?”

 

 


Commuters braced for rises in regulated rail fares

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Millions of rail users in the UK are bracing themselves for news of an increase in regulated rail fares from January 2018.

Train operators are allowed to raise fares by as much as the Retail Prices Index (RPI) figure for July, expected to be in the region of 3.5%.

The exact figure will be published later this morning.

Passenger groups said commuters would be worst-hit, and suggested that the RPI measure should be scrapped.

The rises will affect “anytime” and some off-peak fares as well as season tickets in England and Wales.

In Scotland, it is mainly commuters who will be affected, with off-peak fares rising by a smaller amount.

The Scottish government currently limits rises in off-peak fares to RPI minus 1%.

There are no plans for increases in Northern Ireland.

Unregulated fares, which include super off-peak travel and advance tickets, will be set in December.

Transport Focus, which represents the interests of passengers, said rail users were already fed up with getting poor value for money.

“Wages are not keeping pace with inflation and performance remains patchy,” said a spokesperson for the group.

“Passengers, especially commuters, face potential strike action, the consequences of the continual rise in passenger numbers, and disruption caused by railway upgrades.”

Transport Focus said it would also like to see the RPI measure replaced by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), which is currently running at 2.6%.

CPI is typically lower than RPI.


How close is Japanese knotweed getting to my home?

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Two centuries ago, when Victorian engineers were designing the latest in transport technology, Japanese knotweed sounded like a very clever idea.

A plant that typically colonised volcanoes in Japan was imported to Britain to help hide, or possibly even stabilise, railway embankments.

Since then its spread has caused much unhappiness amongst home-owners and prospective house purchasers.

It can crack tarmac, block drains, undermine foundations and invade homes. Its presence can be enough to cut a property’s value by up to 20%, or prevent a mortgage lender approving a loan.

But just as new technology created the problem originally, new technology may help to solve it.

How close is it to me?

Five years ago, the Environment Agency commissioned a new app to track Japanese knotweed, using the crowd-sourcing principle.

More than 20,000 people have now downloaded it, and their data has pin-pointed over 6,000 knotweed locations.

“If we can get more people taking an interest and submitting records, so much the better,” says Dave Kilbey, director of Natural Apptitude, which designed and launched the app.

“Hopefully it will mean people will become a bit more aware of the problems, and what to look for.”

So far the results show a particular concentration of knotweed in South Wales, the Midlands, London, Scotland’s central belt and Cornwall – where the plant was also introduced by Victorians into ornamental gardens.

Those looking for a property can use the app to find out if knotweed has been found nearby – but the fact it is not on the map does not mean it is not present; it is simply that no one has reported it.

What if I find knotweed?

Trying to destroy Japanese knotweed by yourself is virtually impossible.

That is because the roots, or rhizomes, spread rapidly underground, and can regenerate from tiny amounts of material. In fact it can grow at the rate of 10cm a day during the summer.

“Digging it out of the ground can just spread it terribly,” warns Stephen Hodgson, the chief executive of the Property Care Association (PCA).

“If you’ve got it in your garden, either leave it alone, or treat it properly.”

The advice is as follows:

  • Do not try to dig it up: Tiny root fragments can regenerate into another plant
  • If you cut down the branches, dispose of them on-site. Compost separately, preferably on plastic sheets
  • Do not take it to your local council dump. It needs specialist waste management
  • Do not dispose of it in the countryside. This is against the law
  • Do not spread the soil. Earth within seven horizontal meters of a plant can be contaminated
  • Take advice from the Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association (INNSA) or the Property Care Association (PCA) on local removal contractors. Many treatments don’t work

 

In an experiment being conducted in South Wales, thousands of plant lice were released last summer, in the hopes that they would help destroy some of the knotweed along river banks.

But otherwise the accepted best-practice treatment is for professionals to inject the plant with industrial-strength weed killer glyphosate.

David Layland, the joint managing director of Japanese Knotweed Control, based in Stockport, says it is the only thing that works.

“Once we inject into it, it transfers into the root system pretty quickly, and then it binds with the roots. Over time, it rots away into the subsoil.”

But professional treatment is costly, starting at about £2,500, and going upwards to £30,000 for a major infestation.

Court case

Just as big a worry for many home-owners is the discovery that your neighbour has Japanese knotweed on his or her property, and refuses to do anything about it.

But under the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, local councils or police forces can now issue a Community Protection Notice (CPN), forcing neighbours to take action, and fining them if they don’t.

“I think when they are enforced – and they are starting to be enforced – CPNs are very effective,” says Stephen Hodgson.

“But they are, and should be, a measure of last resort.”

In the meantime judges at the Court of Appeal are gearing up to provide an important precedent on who should pay if a landowner allows knotweed to encroach on somebody else’s property.

Next year they will rule on the case of Williams v Network Rail – after two homeowners in South Wales were awarded £15,000 to compensate them for knotweed which had spread into their gardens.


Tenth of young adults shun cash, says UK Finance

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A tenth of young adults shun cash and rely instead on cards and digital payments for their day-to-day spending, figures suggest.

More than one in 10 people aged between 25 and 34 used notes and coins no more than once a month last year, according to UK Finance.

The trade body for financial providers said nearly three million people rarely used cash.

But, across all age groups, cash remains the most popular way to pay.

The figures show that 6% of the UK’s adult population used cash no more than once a month last year, but this increased to more than 10% for 25 to 34-year-olds. The proportion drops to 2% for 55 to 64-year-olds.

At the opposite end of the scale, 5% of the UK adult population (2.7 million people) relied almost entirely on cash to make their day-to-day payments during 2016, UK Finance said.

This was relatively evenly spread across different age groups. However, people with lower household incomes were far more likely to rely mainly on cash compared with their more affluent counterparts.

More than half of all consumers who relied predominantly on cash during 2016 had total household incomes of less than £15,000 per year.

Cash accounted for 44% of all payments made by consumers across the UK last year.



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