LLOYDS Banking Group is to close its Darwen branch - the only bank left in the town - blaming declining visits by customers.

The Unite union said the closure of 41 Lloyds Bank and seven Halifax branches across the country will deny thousands of customers access to vital services and cash, and could lead to 178 job losses.

Vim Maru, retail director for Lloyds Banking Group, said: “Like many other businesses, we’ve seen people using our branches less frequently in recent years, and this decline is continuing.

“Our branches remain a fundamental part of how we serve our customers but we need to ensure the size of our branch network reflects the number of customers wanting to use them.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The announcement by Lloyds Banking Group of closing a further 48 bank branches is a complete betrayal of the communities and staff who have long supported this highly profitable business.

“This sector needs to start taking their corporate social responsibilities seriously and stop neglecting their obligations to their customers and workforce.

“Banks are leaving people behind in the rush to close bank branches and force consumers to go cashless to boost their mega-profits. It’s a classic example of putting profits before people.”

Unite said it believes the banking industry should have a legal commitment to protect access to cash and bank branches.

The announcement will cut the number of Lloyds Banking Group branches to 1,475, the union added.

Lloyds has not made any compulsory redundancies as a result of a branch closures, aiming to make voluntary redundancies or offer alternate roles.

Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said: “Cash remains a critical part of the payments mix, and is especially important to those with disabilities, those on tight budgets and those in areas with poor broadband connectivity.

“It also serves as a competitor to the handful of card companies which are hiking the fees that are ultimately paid by small businesses, as well as a back-up for when card systems fail.

“As our bank branch and ATM network continues its rapid decline, the ability to freely access and securely deposit is becoming more and more restricted. Fees for access often fall on those who can least afford them, hurting individual wellbeing and communities as a whole.

“The Government promised access to cash legislation 18-months ago. It’s time for it to deliver.”

Darwen has lost branches such as Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Natwest and Santander in recent years. Lloyds Bank will close to the public on February 8, 2022.