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Derek French, Campaign for Community Banking
"They have brought about a sea change in the banking industry"
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The BBC's Simon Gompertz
"There is discontent over the quality of banking services"
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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Barclays says sorry
Man on cross
Protesters have made their feelings clear
Barclays Bank has apologised for the way it handled the closure of 171 branches, many in rural areas.

Chairman Sir Peter Middleton told shareholders at the bank's annual general meeting on Wednesday he regretted there had been no alternative service in place at the time of the closures.

In some cases, the demise of the Barclays branch left communities with no bank.

"I don't think the execution of this was of the first quality and I apologise for it," said Sir Peter.

Barclays has now agreed a deal with post offices so customers can cash and pay in cheques.
Bank closure sign
The closures have caused much resentment

For most people this will take effect from Thursday. Barclays announced before the meeting that all customers would have the service by the end of June.

Chief executive Matthew Barrett said this arrangement should have been secured earlier.

"I regret very much that we did not have the Post Office deal," he said.

But Sir Peter defended the principle of closing branches, saying Barclays now recruited 4,000 customers a day to its internet bank.

He was responding to one angry shareholder who described the closures as reprehensible.

"This has led to the destruction of rural communities and for many old people who are not on the internet it's a disaster," said Reverend Michael Davis from Lindfield in West Sussex.

Top hat and tails

It had been expected that shareholders would give the bank's management team a hard time at the meeting.

Protesters gathered outside, one of them tying himself to a cross. Inside, some shareholders were dressed in top hat and tails to mock the image of the wealthy banker.

Barclays' public image has been badly dented in recent weeks.
Barclays boss Matthew Barrett
Matthew Barrett: Row over pay

The bank has been at the forefront of the proposal to charge non-customers for the use of cash machines. It is suggesting a 1 fee for a service widely acknowledged to cost about 30p.

And it was revealed last month that new chief executive Matthew Barrett had been paid 1.3m for just three months' work.

All this comes in the middle of an expensive TV campaign with stars such as Sir Anthony Hopkins extolling the virtues of being a big bank. One shareholder described it as grotesque.

Another said the bank seemed to consider its staff a liability rather than an asset.

Sir Peter replied: "It is very difficult to have good PR when you are doing things which some people find unpopular. Staff are at the heart of our business."

Although Barclays made profits last year of 2.5bn, some shareholders tried, but failed, to block Mr Barrett's pay and perks package.

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