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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.
There has been outrage after RBS revealed last week 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 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 is 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, 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.
While welcoming the change of heart by RBS over its proposed closure of the island’s only cash machine, Mr Allan has urged RBS to reconsider the decision to close the branch.
‘Many people are still dependent on face-to-face services and I cannot emphasise enough the serious difficulties this is going to cause people in Barra & Vatersay,’ he said.
And Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson has also now waded into the row.
‘This news will be of great concern to many communities across the Highlands which are totally dependent on these branches for private and business banking,’ she said this week.
‘While I appreciate the changing nature of banking, it is very disappointing there was no prior consultation or efforts made to explore alternative options, especially as RBS is a publicly-owned bank.
‘Increasing use of online banking is not and never will be a replacement for cash transactions. If branches close, rural businesses that wish to bank their cash income in future will face round trips of hundreds of miles to the nearest bank in Highland and this could leave them vulnerable as potential targets for crime in areas without banks.
‘I will be writing to RBS to seek an urgent meeting to discuss their branch closure proposals.’