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Bank bosses accused of ‘giving up’ on rural communities

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Bank bosses have been accused of “giving up” on rural communities after branches have continued to close.

The number of cash machines and bank facilities in Scotland has been reducing significantly over the last four years, with 290 ATMs being removed and a third of bank branches closing.

Senior executives from the Bank of Scotland, TSB, Santander and Royal Bank of Scotland were criticised by MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday for reducing opening hours, closing rural branches and over-relying on post offices to provide vital services.

Susan Allen, head of retail and business banking at Santander, came in for criticism from Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid for suggesting branches were closing because “in some communities the high street has gone”.

Mr Duguid said he “just did not accept that” and demanded to know what banks were doing to work with local communities to try and regenerate the high street.

Ms Allen said: “We work with organisations trying to regenerate town centres and we’re involved in many of those local efforts to try to regenerate the high street. It’s in all of our interests to have thriving town centres.”

The SNP’s rural affairs spokeswoman Deidre Brock rejected Ms Allen’s assurance however and accused the banks of “giving up on their local communities and their high streets”.

She said: “This is just all really about the financial savings that banks can make as a result of these bank closures, can you tell me what financial savings your making as a result of your decision to close branches in Scotland?”

Simon Watson, managing director of personal banking at RBS, responded: “Closing branches is not about saving money for the bank. The total saving or reduction is about £9million, but the amount we’re investing in the branches is £12million over the same period.”

Mr Duguid later suggested operating hub branches, with more than one bank under the same roof, as way to keep a presence in rural communities.

Ms Allen responded: “I think we’re all open (to that), the key thing is to support and serve our customers so as their needs change and evolve we have to change and evolve to meet them.”

But the other bank executives said such a move would be “very complicated” with “practical barriers” and instead described how post offices could offer “that day to day transaction”.

Labour MP Ged Killen said the response was a sign the banks were “delegating their responsibility” and asked: “What discussions, what awareness do you have of post offices who say they are close to giving up?”

Ricky Diggins, network director at the Bank of Scotland, responded: “We have a commercial relationship with the Post Office and ongoing discussions at senior level.”

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