Published: 24/12/2017 07:00 - Updated: 19/12/2017 15:59

Highlands united in fight against bank closures

Written byEmma Crichton

 

Ian Blackford
MP Ian Blackford secured a debate on the planned RBS closures at Westminster.

POLITICIANS from all sides and levels of government have come together in a furious campaign to stop Royal Bank of Scotland closing much-needed branches.

MPs, MSPs and councillors are all battling to save the 10 Highland banks earmarked for the axe, saying it will be impossible for  the vulnerable, elderly and small businesses to manage their finances locally.

This week Ross Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford used his position as SNP Westminster leader to secure a debate on the 259 UK-wide planned closures, including 62 across Scotland.

He called on the UK government to step in as more than 70 per cent of RBS is locally owned, following a public bail out in 2008.

"RBS is trying to paint a picture that these branches are a relic of the past, that in-branch banking has declined and that customers are not utilising the branches," he said during the late-night debate on Monday  night.

"The reality is thousands of people in my constituency alone rely on RBS for services in branches earmarked for closure.

"RBS are not only turning their backs on their customers, they are turning their backs on their staff members.

"We are talking about valuable jobs in the rural economy, the loss of opportunities for young people.

"The government can act and must act. A failure to halt is a failure to act in the national interest and in the interest of our citizens. It would be an abrogation of responsibility. Stand up and be counted or like the RBS, this government will be turning its back on constituents."

But Steven Barclay, economic secretary to the Treasury, defended RBS, saying: "The banking market is changing, the use of cash has fallen by a fifth in the last decade and bank visits have fallen by a third since 2011.

"RBS have given six months notice, more than the three required, to allow colleagues to have discussions about how services such as mobile banking can be used."

In Highland branches in Nairn, Aviemore, Beauly, Grantown, Inverness Queensgate, Tain, Tongue, Wick, Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig will shut their doors next year, leaving some towns and villages with no bank at all.

Last week Highland Council unanimously agreed to call on the UK Government to establish a "guaranteed minimum level of service" for essential banking services.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said: "I have no high hopes for a reversal but by crikey I am going to give it my best shot because I am really annoyed."

Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain added his voice to the outcry, saying the proposals have not been considered in detail.

"It is clear that not enough thought has been put into the decision to close local branches and I urge RBS to reconsider," he said.

"The bank that is backed by the taxpayer must reverse its decision and start backing communities and local businesses again."

Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said the impact on rural communities will be "colossal".

"Obviously, I would like to see RBS reverse its decision and I will be absolutely calling for that in the Scottish Parliament," she said.

"Of particular concern to me are elderly and vulnerable customers, who are some of the branch’s most loyal customers.

"RBS and other banks are going to have to up their game to ensure that rural customers are not disadvantaged because the impact on the rural economy would be colossal."

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