Cashless Society Damages Local Trade
Llansawel Market is this Saturday, July 21st, in the village hall from 10am to noon. The third Saturday of the month is always market time in this North Carmarthenshire village, more or less in the centre of a triangle with Lampeter, Llandovery and Llandeilo at the corners.
One modern development does not help it at all, though – the cashless society.
The nearest cashpoint is a good ten miles away, at the Co-op supermarket in Llandeilo. We rely increasingly on Co-op supermarkets to provide this rural area with cash, from the cashpoints in Llandeilo, Llandovery and Lampeter, and from the tills as ‘cashback’. These small but historic towns have suffered the withdrawal of banking services. HSBC, Lloyds and NatWest closed in Llandeilo and Llandovery. In both, Barclays is the only bank left in town, four days a week in Llandeilo and three days in Llandovery. The university town of Lampeter has lost NatWest, another blow for rural areas delivered by parent company Royal Bank of Scotland, which since 2008 has been bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of some £45 billion.
Getting hold of your cash is not at all easy, especially if you do not have your own transport. Closer to home than Llandeilo, the friendly Post Office in the National Trust village of Cwmdu, six miles away and open in the mornings Tuesday to Saturday, is an extremely valuable community asset, and so is the Post Office van at Llansawel village hall for an hour (2.15-3.15) on Monday afternoons. What we don’t have is a free-to-use cashpoint available round the clock.
Stallholders at the market take cash. Customers need cash. The market sells local products – such as cheeses, fruit and vegetables, beef, eggs, baked goods, confectionery, plants, crafts – so is an outlet for nearby enterprises, delivering the short supply chains which the EU has been encouraging. Small-scale producers who sell at markets and fairs benefit the rural economy and are helping to keep villages viable. Yet their need for customers with cash to spend is largely ignored by the big banks.
We are not talking about shoppers carrying wads of £20 notes, just modest amounts of cash for buying from small traders and also for donating to charity collectors. Homeless and recently homeless sellers of the Big Issue magazine, for example, depend on passers-by stumping up £2.50 for a copy. A debit card is no use for buying the Big Issue.
The scarcity of cashpoints in the countryside is itself a big issue, needing government and banks to get together to work out how to prevent rural regions from descending into financial deserts.