Highland Council is considering taking over closed bank buildings and saving local services amid growing fears over the impact of axing branches.
The local authority is exploring whether it can move its service points into empty bank premises, and also adapt its existing facilities to “support local banking activity”.
The move was revealed in a new report for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) which found that more than 80% of businesses, community groups and residents believe bank closures in the region will have a negative impact on the local economy.
The agency commissioned surveys of almost 1,000 people after 28 branches were shut in the north since 2015, with a further 14 RBS branches potentially closing this year.
The report concluded that cash remained “critical to the day-to-day functioning of the local economies and the communities” of the area, and was “core to the functioning of tourism, agricultural and fishing businesses”.
And it makes six recommendations, including recognising the importance of cash to local economies, strengthening digital access and investing in internet infrastructure.
Highland Council, which has strongly criticised the bank branch closures, was said to be “in the process of considering” how its service points in 32 towns and villages could be used to help fill the void.
The report said it “might be possible” to adapt its cash services at some of these points “as a means to support local banking activity”, and that the council had also said it “might explore the possibility of taking over the premises vacated by the banks to use them as service points”.
However, the proposal was said to be at an “early exploratory stage”, with questions remaining over the cost of such a move, and security implications.
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “The council agreed my motion in June to investigate how the council can work with partners to support communities affected by bank closures.
“On our own we cannot resolve the problems that banks have created.
“However, working with our partners in Highland, we can find ways to help and we can raise our voices to lobby for an improved response from the banks.”