Highland politicians slam RBS closures

Kate Frobes MSP speaking in the debate on How Scotland’s Innovation Centre Programme is Driving Innovation in Scotland. 17 November 2016. Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

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The SNP’s Ian Blackford MP and Kate Forbes MSP have appealed to Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Ross McEwan to review the decision to close branches in Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig.

It was revealed yesterday (Thursday) that these branches would be closed due to falling numbers of customers and the greater uptake of online banking.

RBS intends closing 259 branches – one in four of its outlets – and axing almost 700 jobs. The plan involves 62 Royal Bank of Scotland and 197 NatWest branches.

But Mr Blackford and Ms Forbes are both challenging these claims.

Mr Blackford said the argument from bank bosses that these branches are not well used is far from reality.

‘Information supplied to me by RBS is that Mallaig has 1,001 customers and has had 10,098 transactions in the last year; Kyle has 2,436 customers and has had 25,000 transactions, which are not small numbers,’ he said.

‘Without these branches the only option is for customers to travel long distances to access these personal and business services.

‘Although RBS rightly has operational independence, the state retains a majority stake in RBS. I raised the matter in parliament today and will be pushing for a debate on the impact of rural bank closures.

‘Together with my colleague Kate Forbes, I am also writing to the chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, asking for the company to reconsider these plans.’

Ms Forbes added: ‘While online banking is becoming more popular, RBS are prematurely closing branches in the very communities that most depend on the bank’s physical presence and I do not think that is right.

‘Of course, RBS have got to turn a profit – but that shouldn’t be at the cost of the most vulnerable customers, and we know that it is the most vulnerable such as the elderly who actually use the branch.

‘I stand with my colleague Ian Blackford MP in calling on RBS to rethink these closures.’

Their comments were echoed by Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan  who hit out at the decision to close the RBS branch in Castlebay, on Barra.

The bank has announced  the branch will close in June. The RBS branch is Barra’s only bank and it hosts the island’s single ATM cash machine.

Mr Allan commented: ‘This decision is going to cause real problems for people in Barra, particularly the elderly and the more vulnerable.

‘It is bad enough that people in Barra and Vatersay will be unable to have face-to-face contact with their bank, other than by possible occasional visits by a mobile van, but RBS also seem to be saying they will be withdrawing their cash machine, the only one on the island.

‘It shows the depth of RBS’s lack of understanding of island circumstances that their email announcing the branch closure stated there are still ‘a number of free to use cash machines in your area’, before listing cash machines some 27 miles away in South Uist, which people in Barra would have to take a ferry to use.

‘People have come to expect that it’s possible in the modern world to get cash after 5pm, so this move represents a significant diminution in the services available to the public in Barra.

‘RBS is 73 per cent owned by the UK taxpayer, yet they seem to have taken no account of the public or common good in reaching this decision.

‘I have urged the bank to take stock of the devastating impact this could have and commit to keeping the branch open.’

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