Don't get your knickers in a twist over M&S

M&S decision to open a bank is hardly groundbreaking

News that Marks & Spencer will launch a chain of in-store bank branches has deservedly attracted the attention of the consumer press. It plans to roll out in-store M&S Bank branches within a number of its stores and extend its range of products to cover current accounts this year with mortgages slated to follow next year, backed by HSBC.

But let’s not get carried away. It will take M&S two years to open the grand total of 50 in-store branches.  M&S has dabbled in financial services since 1985. In the 27 years since its launch, it has introduced a limited range of products and grown its customer base to just 3m. Last year, it made turned a profit but a modest one of £50m.

Meantime, the Cooperative is pressing on with plans to expand its number of in-store Coop Bank outlets within its chain of supermarkets. Rival Tesco might, just might, sort out teething problems it has experienced in respect of the debut of its first current account product. According to M&S chief executive Colin Kersley, the retailer will provide customers with a credible, alternative choice in the banking sector. It is debatable if there really exists such a lack of choice.

And 50 High Street outlets: that will hardly strike fear into the heart of Santander, RBS/NatWest, Barclays or Lloyds. M&S Bank says that it will put the customer at the heart of its proposition and deliver an exceptional level of service: well it would say that, wouldn’t it? Do not forget that Virgin Money is bashing on with plans to open Virgin Money lounges. Virgin’s track record – at least for its airline, if not its overcrowded and expensive West Coast Main Line rail franchise  - suggests its customer service proposition will be a selling point.

So the M&S Bank story is interesting but will barely cause a ripple in terms of affecting market shares for current accounts. As for 50 extra branch outlets: my bet would be that this will just about cover the High Street branches that HSBC will shutter within the next two years. One positive is that M&S Bank will create up to 500 new jobs. Or put another way: it will mop up a fraction of the jobs that will be lost over the same period as HSBC continues to shrink its workforce.

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

M&S, Photograph, Getty Images.

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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