RBS has failed to appreciate the damage their closure programme will inflict on many communities across Scotland, according to a report by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee.
The report highlights the vital role that bank branches play in sustaining rural and urban communities. It calls into question the assumptions made by RBS that led to the planned closures and urges greater openness in future decisions. It also says that UK Government must use any influence it has as majority shareholder to pressure the Royal Bank of Scotland to reconsider plans to close 52 branches in Scotland. As it stands, many branches will shut in June, some have already closed, and an additional 10 scheduled to shut have been given a temporary reprieve.
Pete Wishart, Scottish Affairs Committee chairman, said: “The Royal Bank of Scotland do not seem to understand the impact of the closures on communities in Scotland. The loss of a permanent bank, and the services it provides, cannot be replicated by the occasional visit of a mobile bank or community banker. In rural areas, the local branch is as an essential whose withdrawal is compounded by poor access to broadband and journey time to the next available facility. RBS did not consult adequately and even at this last stage should reverse their decision to close these branches.
“The reprieve offered to ten branches is inadequate and almost designed to fail, with no solid plan about how these branches performance will be assessed. We also note that the savings secured in closing these branches is dwarfed by the operating profits generated by the bank last year.
“The UK Government has an obligation to represent the interests of the citizens and communities in Scotland that will be harmed by this swathe of bank closures. Instead, they have been silent both to those communities, and to this Committee. They own 70% of the shares in this company and should use any influence they have to try and have this decision reversed.”
When they appeared before the Committee, RBS said that the closures were not a money saving exercise and were a reaction to changes in customer behaviour. The Committee finds that the closure of these branches will have a devastating impact on affected communities affected, removing vital services from businesses and individuals alike, and that RBS have underestimated how much people rely on traditional in-branch banking services and should halt the closure programme.
The alternatives services being offered to customers are equally insufficient in replacing lost branches. Mobile banking vans and community bankers do not provide the range of services or ease of access of a permanent, static facility. Online services provide a quicker, easier way of banking for many customers, but cannot provide an adequate service in areas where broadband can be patchy or non-existent.