ROSS-SHIRE communities outraged by the latest swathe of impending bank closures are rallying around campaigns to prevent the potentially devastating knock-on impact on local people and businesses.
Tain and Kyle are on the Royal Bank of Scotland hit-list with both branches slated to shut next June.
They’re among 10 in the Highlands and 62 across Scotland set for the axe, with the loss of around 160 jobs.
As it emerged that senior RBS executives are to be hauled in front of the Scottish Affairs select committee in the new year to explain the latest wave of closures, Tain and Easter Ross councillor Alasdair Rhind pledged: "We’ll give it a good fight. This is the last business in Tain I thought would close."
Locals gathered outside the branch this week in a show of defiance as politicians and business representatives lined up to stress its importance.
Tain Community Council chairman David MacDonald said it would be "a massive loss to the High Street".
He said: "The bank’s decision will be a big loss for all the other towns affected too and leaves empty buildings in prominent locations which hopefully can be put to alternative uses quickly. I would hope the RBS wouldn’t be difficult to deal with in terms of negotiations with potential buyers."
Tain and Easter Ross councillor Derek Louden said: "I’m sad for the staff involved, some of whom I’ve known for many years. This branch was one of the very best in the north in supporting small and medium enterprises."
Cllr Louden is to lobby bank chiefs in a bid to find out whether Tain staff’s willingness to do other tasks within the organisation might earn the branch a reprieve.
Fellow ward councillor Fiona Robertson said: "There is very strong feeling about this. Quite a number of people transferred from the Clydesdale bank when it closed its branch in Tain recently, to RBS, as it had a Tain branch. They are hugely disappointed and annoyed, as you can imagine.
"I am a user of the branch and it is usually a very busy – with extremely helpful and well-respected staff. There is also the major concern of yet another empty High Street building – this is a very prominent, historic and attractive, building in the middle of our street."
Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone, who lives in Tain, said: "There is serious unhappiness about these closures. Indeed I would say that it verges on an anger that I have not seen before. This is because there is a feeling that ‘we’, the taxpayers, own this bank – precisely because ‘we’ the taxpayers bailed the bank out when it was about to go under some years ago."
He suggests banks be compelled to set up a jointly-owned subsidiary which would have responsibility for face-to-face banking in Scotland, taking advantages of economies of scale.
Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford said: "The argument that these branches are not well-used is far from reality. Without these branches the only option is for customers to travel long distances to access these personal and business services. Although RBS rightly has operational independence, the state retains a majority stake in RBS. I am writing to the chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, asking for the company to re-consider these plans."
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, who is based in Dingwall, accused banks of abandoning rural customers.
She said: "RBS is just the latest bank to abandon the Highlands and forget the local communities who depend on their services. Banks face choices as to where they focus their activities but it is clear from the waves of closures across the Highlands that national banks are failing rural customers and businesses. It is not just exceptionally poor customer service for loyal customers who have been with that bank sometimes for decades,. it is a dereliction of responsibility."
Fin Macrae, who lives in Tain, runs his own business and is a member of Tain and District Development Trust, said: "We are looking at how we can find a positive out of a devastating thing. We believe banks have a duty of care to their customers but we also have to look at how communities look after themselves."
It’s understood the trust will consider potential alternative uses for the High Street building in a worst-case scenario, potentially as a social enterprise.
A local pensioner, who asked not to be named, told the Journal she plans setting up an online petition to fight the closure. Ironically, she’s one of many uncomfortable with online banking. She said: "People fear the personal side is going to go. Not everyone can drive to the next branch at Alness – that’s 17 miles for me.
"I don’t trust online banking. If people can hack into supposedly well-protected businesses, I’m sure they can hack into my bank account. A lot of older people are very unhappy about this and feel they’re being forced into digital banking when it’s not what they want."
Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Ian Cockburn, whose ward takes in Kyle, said: "It’s something that has to be resisted, especially when you consider RBS is 70 per cent owned by the taxpayer. These banks are crucial and this sends out the wrong message."
An RBS spokesman said: "As customers change the way they bank with us, we must change the way that we serve them and this means that some branches will have to close. Closing a branch is a decision we take very seriously. We know it can affect people in the local area and we’ll always work hard to guide people through the changes and find the best way to serve from now on."
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