RBS was accused of dealing a “disastrous” blow to Highland communities last night after the bailed-out bank confirmed that four more local branches will be axed.
Beauly, Inveraray, Kyle and Tongue will all be shut down after a review was held into their futures – and the bank’s boss signalled that a fresh round of closures could be considered in Scotland in little more than a year.
But local campaigners at Castlebay on Barra were celebrating a “fantastic victory” after the local branch was one of only two to be saved, alongside Biggar.
RBS announced in February that it would grant a temporary reprieve to 10 closure-threatened Scottish branches amid a storm of controversy over plans to axe 62 sites north of the border.
It appointed accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael to carry out a review that would determine the future of the branches, and yesterday confirmed that Beauly, Inveraray, Kyle, Tongue, Comrie, Gretna, Melrose and Douglas would all close at a date that is “to be confirmed”.
And RBS managing director Simon Watson could only guarantee there would be no further reviews of the network in the “immediate future”, suggesting further closures would not be considered “until at least 2020”.
Ian Blackford, Highland MP and SNP Westminster leader, had claimed credit for securing the review of the 10 branches in February.
Last night, he said: “Whilst we welcome the news that two RBS branches in Scotland will be saved from closure, this is no consolation for the communities which will be affected by eight RBS branches which are set to close.
“These proposals do not properly consider the needs of those who are not proficient with technology or require extra assistance to undertake their banking.
“Closures will be disastrous for those who rely on a local bank branch for personal banking or for their small business.”
A series of further recommendations were made to try to ease the impact of the closures, such as improving the reliability of mobile banking services and arranging cash collections from larger businesses.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone, whose constituency contains the Tongue branch, said such measures were insufficient.
“RBS should think again and end the closures of rural bank branches in places like Tongue, which pose a huge threat to local businesses and leave loyal customers without access to essential financial services,” he said.
“In my constituency it is simply not practical for businesses and consumers to rely on internet banking and the occasional mobile service.”
The Unite trade union claimed the review’s conclusions were “entirely predictable”.
Regional officer Lyn Turner added: “Sixty communities out of an original 62 earmarked for closure will now be marginalised by this so-called review.”
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Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes said it was “clear there is work to be done” by RBS, including addressing “well-documented and legitimate questions regarding security and disabled access in the alternative banking provision”.
Mr Watson, managing director of personal banking at RBS, said: “We know branches are important to many communities, but equally we know that fewer and fewer people are using them as more people bank online.
“In every case of a branch closing we are committed to providing the best possible range of banking alternatives, including mobile branches, banking in the local post office, community bankers and remote services such as telephone banking.”