AN MP and former banker has defended holding a “community” meeting exclusively for bank customers.

James Duddridge, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East, faced accusations of “being in the pocket of the banks” after holding a surgery in the Southend High Street branch of Halifax.

Only Halifax customers could attend the drop-in meeting to raise concerns with their MP, to stop the branch being overrun.

Mr Duddridge, who ran banks in Swaziland, the Ivory Coast and Botswana before becoming an MP, said: “In September last year during a visit to the Halifax it offered to host an ‘out-and-about’ surgery within its branch.

“Due to capacity issues, it requested this surgery was for Halifax customers only, so services for customers who visited the branch for banking were not affected.

“I am always looking out for potential venues and any constituent is able to contact my offices and arrange appointments where necessary.”

The Tory, who is paid £500 per day as a strategic adviser for wealth management company Wilcocks and Associates, has defended holding drop-in sessions in shops and restaurants alongside regular surgeries at his offices, in Southchurch Road.

Over the past six years he has held surgeries at fish and chip shops, McDonald’s, community centres, B&Q, Waitrose and Asda.

Mr Duddridge claims the meetings are a way to take politics to the people, but Labour has accused him of limiting access and promoting businesses.

Ian Gilbert, leader of Southend Council’s Labour group and Labour candidate against Mr Duddridge next year, said: “It demeans the office of an MP if they allow themselves to be used for commercial promotions.

“While I’m sure there are people who would like the chance to talk to their MP on Southend High Street, the location should be somewhere accessible to all.

“Fair and equal access to our elected representatives is an important point of principle.

Labour councillors run a weekly advice surgery that is open to all.”

A post on Labour blog LabourList said: “It’s often said the Tories are in the pocket of the banks, but one Tory MP appears to have taken that maxim rather too seriously.”