Labour has called for the UK Government to “stop dancing” around the planned closures of dozens of RBS branches.
As the bank prepares for its annual meeting in Edinburgh today, shadow chancellor John McDonnell called on the Treasury to “stop dancing to the tune of the bank’s board” and pressure RBS to halt hundreds of UK branch closures despite reported profits of £752m last year.
Mr McDonnell said: “Taxpayers stepped in the save RBS after bankers drove our economy off a cliff. Now it’s time for the government to step up and defend the public interest by stopping RBS’ reckless plans to close hundreds of local bank branches.”
But Conservative MP David Duguid, who will see branch closures in his Banff and Buchan constituency, said it was not the UK Government’s place to intervene but to protect the taxpayers’ investment.
“It is not the role of government to protect individual consumers of the RBS any more than would be protected if they were customers of another bank,” he said.
“One thing that has always concerned me about the proposed government intervention in the closure of RBS branches, apart from breaking the terms of the bail-out deal, is the absence of similar support for customers of other banks who may face closures.
“I hope that if UK Financial Investments is to sell off some of its shares in RBS, the taxpayer, who bailed out the bank in 2008, gets a respectable return.”
Mr Duguid added he was in no way condoning the behaviour of RBS and urged customers to ditch the bank.
“I do believe that RBS have treated their own customers poorly,” he said. “Where possible, I fully expect they will ‘vote with their feet’ and transfer their accounts to other banks which remain in their towns.
“I think going ahead and closing the ‘last bank in town’ in some cases, particularly as RBS had previously committed not to, is a disgrace. But again, this is a matter for the bank itself.”
Labour MP Danielle Rowley, who also sits on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, strongly disagreed and said the UK Government can and should put pressure on RBS to reverse its decision to close 62 branches in Scotland.
“Any attempt by the government to wash its hands of responsibility for RBS will be seen for what it is by the general public,” she said. “A missed chance at best and a dereliction of duty at worst.
“The verdict from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee is clear – the current closure programme must be reversed.
“That does not change whether the government offloads its stake or not, but the window of opportunity for intervention is clearly closing. Ministers must act now.”