What Government is doing about rural bank closures

Author
The Country,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Mar 2021, 1:59PM
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

What Government is doing about rural bank closures

Author
The Country,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Mar 2021, 1:59PM

The Government has been concerned about rural bank closures "for some time" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Yesterday, South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen presented Parliament with a letter signed by 32 provincial mayors, calling for a formal enquiry into the effect bank branch closures had on their communities.

The Government had noticed the trend occurring "even pre-Covid," Ardern told The Country's Rowena Duncum.

"We were seeing closures, particularly in rural isolated areas where banks were making individual decisions which were leaving some communities with banking services at a huge distance."

As a result, the Government worked with the New Zealand Bankers' Association to start a Regional Banking Hub trial, Ardern said.

"Essentially we've had the banks come together to provide basic services in one location that people are able to utilise. So we've had that launching in different sites."

The hubs were intended to put a halt on bank closures during the trial, Ardern said.

"Covid overtook some of that work, but we've had the hubs opening nonetheless."

The Government will go back to the Bankers Association to see whether the Regional Hubs trial could be expanded," given what we're experiencing at the moment," Ardern said.

While it was "early days" for some of the hubs; Ardern said there had been "really good initial feedback" from tellers so far.

"In some cases they were working… in banks, where they would have maybe 10 customers a day…where the flow had really dropped away."

Ardern said these tellers were now seeing more customers, because the hub was providing services across multiple banks.

"I think there's every reason to want to see it expanded and we'll certainly be making that approach to the Bankers' Association."

Winter grazing rules

Meanwhile, DairyNZ had issued a plea to the Government to respond to an advisory group's recommendations to improve winter grazing rules.

In December, the Southland Advisory Group recommended making several changes to the Government's National Environmental Standard for Freshwater.

These included amendments to pugging and resowing dates.

Ardern said she had been "touching base" with the ministers who were working on the plan and hoped to release something "in the coming weeks."

"What we've needed to do is make sure we've been covering off both our farming representatives, but also get something in order that works for local government and Fish & Game and others."

Ardern said she was pleased to see an acknowledgment that "we needed to improve the way that winter grazing was operating."

"Just having that consensus has really helped as we work through some of the practical implementation issues."

Also in today's interview: Ardern commented on the cancellation of rural events because of Covid-19 alert levels, and rates increases in Central Hawke's Bay.