Why This 71/2-Ton Truck Could Be the Answer to the Banking Crisis in Britain's Countryside; FOUR-PAGE SPECIAL REPORT,FINANCIAL MAIL

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FINANCIAL Mail has led the way in exposing banks that have closed branches and left towns and villages to fend for themselves. But all is not gloom. Some banks and building societies have taken to the road, and air, to bring vital services to their customers.

In this special four-page report we go flying with bankers in the Orkneys and hit the road in Scotland.

But we start our journey in the West Country...

A SEVEN-and-a-half ton vehicle resembling a sophisticated horsebox swings into the railway station car park in South Brent, a small village off the A38 just north of Plymouth. The Portman building society mobile bank branch has arrived, marking the start of its weekly travels across south Devon.

Over the next five days, the green DAF Leyland van and its crew of three Portman staff will visit Buckfastleigh on market day, the Rose & Crown car park in Yealmpton, and the village green in Newton Ferrers.

The van, bedecked with the logo, 'We really do go the extra mile for our customers', brings banking to villagers who have been hit hard by branch closures and who otherwise have to travel long distances to do their banking.

Inside the van, customers can pay in or withdraw cash, open a new savings account, or perhaps arrange a mortgage. There is even a toilet - though lack of privacy has meant that nobody, not even staff, has dared to use it.

Portman's mobile banking initiative, which started last month, has got off to a jerky start. While most villages have welcomed the vehicle, others have refused to give it space.

Parish councillors at Modbury, for example, have banned it because they think that its arrival would be an open invitation to hamburger sellers and chip vans to descend on the picturesque village.

Others, such as Derek French, head of the Campaign For Community Banking Services, have given the scheme a lukewarm reception.

HE says: 'It's good to see an organisation like Portman prepared to offer a banking facility to remote communities such as South Brent and Yealmpton. But it is not the answer to the wholesale closure of bank branches up and down the country.

'If the mobile branch provided banking services on behalf of all the banks, then I would be far happier.' But according to Jo Lawton-Cook, Portman's regional manager for the South-West, the building society's attempt to bring banking services to some of the smallest communities has received overwhelming support from residents. …