RBS has offered 10 at-risk branches a reprieve – but warned customers must use them, or risk losing them for good.
The bank announced plans to close 62 branches across Scotland last December, with Wick, Aviemore, Nairn, Grantown on Spey, Banff, Turriff, Dyce, Bridge of Don, Ellon and Huntly among those to go.
Politicians and communities have rallied in opposition, with the Press and Journal also launching the Save our Banks campaign.
And yesterday, RBS finally bowed to public pressure and announced a stay of execution for 10 of the branches – including Castlebay on Barra, Beauly, Kyle, Tongue and Inverary – until the end of the year.
RBS will be monitioring the use of the branches, and will then carry out an independent review to determine their long-term future.
Campaigners up north were celebrating last night, while those in the north-east – where the closures will go ahead as planned – vowed to continue the fight.
Jane Howard, managing director of RBS personal banking, said: “Having listened to the concerns of customers, communities and elected representatives from all political parties, we have decided to keep 10 branches open until the end of 2018. During this period we will monitor the level of transactions and new income at each branch and if there is a sustained and viable increase in both then we will reconsider the closure of the relevant branch as part of a full independent review.”
The P&J understands an as-yet-unnamed industry expert will carry out a rolling review of transactions and ‘new income’, defined as including mortgages.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who represents Ross, Skye and Lochaber, hailed the decision as a partial victory following his three questions to Prime Minister Theresa May and two debates secured by his party, in contrast to the Conservatives “failing to lift a finger” on the issue.
He said: “The Press and Journal deserves to be commended for the Save Our Banks campaign. This will come as relief to the communities who can continue to use their branches and the SNP will continue our campaign.”
Isles MP Angus MacNeil described it as a “step in the right direction” but said there was still a “long way to go” to reassure communities.
The P&J’s Save Our Banks campaign backed by every Scottish political party, and highlighted concerns about how internet blackspots stymie online banking, the lack of proper impact assessment and consultation and the fact the closure programme would save only £9.5million – less than RBS spent on sponsoring Scottish Rugby in just one year.
More than 50 Scottish branches are still set to close from may this year, with Tain, Wick, Aviemore, Mallaig, Nairn, Inverness Queensgate, Grantown On Spey, Banff, Turriff, Dyce, Ellon, Huntly and Bridge of Don still in line to be axed.
Unite deputy Scottish secretary Mary Alexander said it was clear campaigners had forced a concession by “exposing the devastation of what the closures mean for communities and jobs” and RBS must go further and reconsider its entire closure programme.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone said he was pleased the “super tanker of wrong thinking” guiding the closure programme had started to change track and urged customers to “use it or lose it”.
Gordon MP Colin Clark welcomed the breaththrough, but added: “However, this announcement doesn’t go nearly far enough and will come as little comfort to my constituents concerned about accessing their local branch.
“As things stand, banks across the north-east will shut, and the loss of a total of 52 will be a major blow to town centres across Scotland.”
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid, Conservative, added he was disappointed Turriff and Banff and Buchan branches in his constituency had not been offered a reprieve and would “continue to fight for access to banking facilities”.