Virgin Money accused of ‘turning its back’ on Skye customers

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Plans to shutter the Portree branch of Virgin Money have been condemned by Skye MP Ian Blackford.

He has accused the bank of ‘turning its back’ on more than 1,100 Skye customers.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Mr Blackford, said the banking institution was ‘turning its back on generations of customers.’

In a furious exchange with senior management of the bank, the SNP Westminster leader demanded a reconsideration of the decision which will see existing customers facing a five-hour return journey to the nearest Virgin Money branch in Fort William.

Virgin Money UK plc – which merged with the former Clydesdale Bank in 2019 – has announced that the 12 Scottish branches will close on February 1, with the loss of 55 jobs.

The closure of the Portree branch will lead to the loss of two jobs and impact 1,147 customers – both business and personal – and will potentially leave the Somerled Square premises in the centre of the village standing empty for 13 years until
the bank’s lease expires in 2034.

The MP, who himself lives on Skye, has written to Virgin Money UK CEO David Duffy to formally seek a reconsideration of the closure plans.

He has also sought answers regarding the future of the building which holds a prime position in the main square in Portree.

‘I am absolutely furious about this. And so are the residents of Skye,’ Mr Blackford told the meeting.

‘I can’t believe what I am hearing. This discussion has demonstrated that you do not realise the effect of this matter on customers.

‘People travelling from the north of Skye will face a 108-mile journey to the nearest branch in Fort William.

‘I don’t know whether you have ever travelled that road. It is extremely busy, especially in summer and can take well over two hours.

‘Are you really suggesting that someone using the branch in Portree can travel instead to Fort William?

‘Your own press release states that 51 percent of customers in Portree are digitally active. This means that almost half are not.

‘You are walking away from people who have had a relationship with the bank, as the Clydesdale Bank, for generations and supported it through difficult times. Have you no shame?’

He added: ‘This action demonstrates that you have turned your back on the people of Skye. You need to understand the strength of feeling about this.’

Mr Blackford asked for a written assurance that every customer – particularly those assessed as being vulnerable in some way – will be provided with a seamless transfer to an alternative bank should they wish to take up this option.

He says he received a ‘100 per cent commitment’ from Virgin Group customer experience director Fergus Murphy that this would be the case.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said he was also extremely disappointed to hear of Virgin Money’s plans to close a number of its UK branches, including those in Portree and Oban.

‘This closure will mean that Virgin Money’s Portree customers will be left without a branch within reasonable distance and will be forced to either move bank or travel to Fort William, over 100 miles and nearly three hours drive away,’ Mr Halcro Johnston said.

Debbie Hutchings, trade union Unite industrial officer, called the proposed closure of 12 Virgin Money branches across Scotland ‘shameful’ and ‘bizarre’ as the group has just about completed the rebranding exercise of the former Clydesdale branches.

She added: ‘Island communities from Portree to rural towns such as Wick are going to be left behind by Virgin Money.

‘The Virgin Money Group claims the principal reason for the closures is down to its digital banking drive.

‘However, what happens to the people in our island and Highland communities where internet reception is notoriously poor not to mention the difficulties which many people have in using mobile app technology.

‘We are calling on politicians in the areas affected to work with us to save these branches, and Unite will be raising this as a matter of urgency with the Scottish Government.’