Whistleblower claims Halifax plans raft of closures

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of staff providing counter services for Halifax bank customers face an uncertain future after a whistleblower claimed its owners had a plan to close small branches and 300 counters in estate agencies, solicitor's practices and financial advisor's offices.

The sweeping potential closures, codenamed Project Tulip, have been leaked by an executive claiming to be angered by the "secrecy" of Lloyds Banking Group, which bought the Halifax last year.

The source told The Mail on Sunday: "I was told in a meeting earlier this year that another 150 will be served with notice of closure next month and a further 374 in January next year.

"Many of our customers, particularly the elderly, have passbooks and bank in a traditional way. So to take away what is the hub of their community is devastating," he told the paper. A Lloyds spokesman denied any branches would be closed.

The closure of 26 Halifax agency counters, which offer a limited range of basic banking services and are operated under licence by a third party, was announced in June and are due to take effect over the next two months.

A counter is typically staffed by one or two people, who are employed by the franchisee. All those earmarked for closure are in England and Wales.

Lloyds said in a statement last night: "A strategic review of the agency network is currently under way and until this review is concluded, no decisions will be taken regarding the rest of the agency network.

"The network of 3,000 Lloyds TSB, Halifax and Bank of Scotland branches are not involved in this review and continue to operate as normal."

The whistleblower alleged that no wider programme of closures had been mentioned when the first 26 were announced. Managers were told they were a result of "poor brand representation", "poor customer experience" and "declining transactions".

"We weren't giving them the full picture and staff were annoyed by that. I understand some of the managers and agents weren't fooled, and said so," he told the newspaper.

"Unsurprisingly there will be a huge drive to retain customers. And to be more specific, it's all about hanging on to customers with large savings. Staff have been told to direct people to other Halifax branches, to get them to bank online or by phone, or to move to a Lloyds branch."

The review of agency counters is a result of the integration of Lloyds and HBOS, which merged last year, and Lloyds said agency counter staff would not necessarily be made redundant.

"It's a question of whether the people who run these businesses will deploy them on to other things or not. If it's a very small business, it may be that this is just one of a whole range of things [the staff] have to do."