Several closure-threatened RBS branches could be about to be thrown a lifeline

Ian Blackford, the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber photo from his website

RBS is to make a partial U-turn over its highly-unpopular branch closure programme, a senior politician has suggested.

Ian Blackford said positive talks with bosses had led to a position where “some” of the targeted communities will keep their banks.

The Press and Journal, which is campaigning to save threatened branches, understands they would be among 13 in towns and villages which have only one left.

That could include Beauly, Castlebay, Inveraray and Tongue in the Highlands and Islands plus nine elsewhere in Scotland.

However, it appears to leave the axe hanging over another 14 communities across the north and north-east where the shutters are due to go up.

Dyce, Bridge of Don, Ellon, Turriff, Huntly, Banff, Grantown, Aviemore, Nairn, Inverness Queensgate, Tain, Kyle, Mallaig and Wick.

Mr Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, could not confirm which branches are involved in the deal.

But he told us: “The situation in Scotland is of the 62 branches for closure, 13 they are proposing closing are places where it is the last bank in town.

“That has been my main focus.”

He continued: “What I can say is that what we have been trying to do is impose upon RBS the importance that rural communities are not left disadvantaged.

“These communities and the rural economy, certainly the tourism industry, are still cash based.

“The existence of a branch based network is very important for these communities. We have been arguing very strongly for that and I think it is understood by RBS.

“I expect us to get to a position where we can say that some of these branches will remain open.”

RBS has blamed the decision, which follows a recent round of closures by Bank of Scotland, on a fall in customer visits and more people using online services.

The bank declined to comment in detail on Mr Blackford’s revelations

A spokesman for RBS said: “We can’t confirm any decision that has been made or not made at this time.”

Mr Blackford said he had resorted to “bypassing” the Prime Minister and talking directly to RBS chiefs about the plans.

But Labour and the Tories accused of hijacking the work of the all-party Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster – chaired by his SNP colleague Pete Wishart.

Colin Clark, the Conservative MP for Gordon, said: “Ian Blackford seems to be undermining the work the committee has done by trying to get the headline on it.”

Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird said: “I am astounded that Ian Blackford is cutting across a live investigation being undertaken by the Scottish Select Committee into RBS and its proposals to close vital high-street bank branches.”

David Duguid, Scottish Conservative MP for the Banff and Buchan, said: “My colleagues and I on the Scottish Affairs Committee have made clear our oppostion to these RBS branch closures.

“We remain of the view that the bank must make concessions on the current proposals.”

Pat Rafferty of Unite Scotland welcomed “what appears to be a change in heart by those at the top of RBS” and said campaigns against the closures had turned them into “a massive PR disaster for the bank.

“What we are dealing with here are real communities and real lives. At stake are the future of communities across Scotland and literally hundreds of jobs. So RBS should now end the speculation and confirm exactly what its new plans are. It’s time for RBS to do the right thing and act like the Royal Bank FOR Scotland that they now claim to be.”

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