Teach greedy banks a 1p lesson

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The Independent Online

If there were awards for the greatest public relations disasters of our time, the high-street banks would undoubtedly walk off with most of the honours.

Barclays Bank would have to be the front-runner. Despite its £15m TV ad campaign, in which Anthony Hopkins and assorted actors eulogise on the "bigness" of the organisation, Barclays is about to get a lot smaller as far as its UK branch network is concerned.

This Friday, Barclays will close 171 bank branches, most in rural areas with a small customer base. After its stand on cash machines, demanding a surcharge on customers withdrawing money from ATMs, it has decided to go ahead and close 200 branches this year in spite of customer protests.

Even though most of your letters show that it's the staggering arrogance the high- street banks regularly demonstrate that really winds you up, there is no sign of it abating. As the adverts tell us, there is something "big" about Barclays after all - the pay packets of its top managers.

It emerged last week that chairman Sir Peter Middleton's salary quadrupled last year to £1.76m. The new chief executive, Matthew Barrett, also did rather well - getting £1.35m for three months' work. It is all evidence of another shot in the foot for the bank.

Concern is mounting at government level. Not only did Don Cruickshank's recent report into banking practices reveal we are being overcharged to the tune of £5bn a year, an all-party Parliamentary committee was also launched last week to fight bank branch closures, chaired by Martin Salter, MP for Reading West.

Clearly it is about time the Government stepped in. If the banks won't listen to customers, higher intervention is needed. But if you've had enough, there is something you can do: join the "Penny Protest". Bank customers across the country are being urged to write out five cheques to their friends for a penny each this weekend that should be paid into their banks tomorrow. As it costs 45p to process a cheque, it will set the banks back £90,000 if 200,000 cheques are paid in.

It won't stop the high-street banks from closing their branches or charging us at ATMs. But it might make them think twice about how they treat us in future.