FEARS still exist that a bank branch in Newtown St Boswells will eventually be closed, despite last week’s climb down by the Royal Bank of Scotland to reverse an earlier decision to shut the premises.
Last week, TheSouthern reported on the change of heart by RBS bosses over their decision – announced in the summer – to close the Newtown branch.
It followed vociferous lobbying of the bank’s senior management in Edinburgh by the village’s community council.
In a statement issued last week, an RBS spokesperson said the bank had undertaken a further assessment, and having taking into consideration a number of factors which are specific to the local area, the branch would now stay open, albeit with reduced opening hours.
Hazel Anderson, RBS local chief executive officer for retail banking in the Borders, told TheSouthern the original decision to close the Newtown branch was taken in response to low and reducing customer demand.
“The decision to keep the branch open was based very much on the specific factors relating to the local area, but it remains the case that we must continue to deploy our resources and investment where demand justifies this,” she said.
That news was welcomed by local community councillors as a real boost for the village.
However, local Scottish Borders councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre said she still thinks the branch will ultimately be closed.
She told us: “I do fear that this will end up in closure by stealth. You reduce the opening hours, the number of customers decreases, you notice that fewer people use the bank, you announce that fewer people use the bank, you claim that that is a reason to close it.
“I wish the Royal Bank would just stick to the current opening hours. It is a much-used branch.”
But her fellow Newtown councillor, Kenneth Gunn, was more optimistic.
He stated: “I am absolutely delighted that the Royal Bank of Scotland has listened to local concerns and local people in Newtown St Boswells and have performed a U-turn and re-assessed their earlier decision to close their branch in the village.
“We have to remember that Newtown is not just any village and is, in fact, the home of the only livestock mart left in the South-East of Scotand with a potential weekly multi-million pound business involving John Swan & Sons and the farming community over a huge area of rural Scotland, with current sales every Monday and Thursday.
“Newtown is also the home of Scottish Borders Council whose offices are next door to the Royal Bank building in the village and who employ over 6,000 people who have their wages paid directly into their own bank”.
And Councillor Gunn added: “Now that the risk of closure had been lifted by some good management at RBS, we have to work with them to ensure that any reduction in hours is managed properly and no lessening of service is noticed.
“I hope that a greater marketing exercise by RBS will see them attract even more customers to this area where they have enjoyed the loyalty of customers for many years.”
Jack Clark, managing director of John Swan & Sons, was equally pleased.
He said: “This is a vitally important bank in Newtown, particularly on sale days at the mart.
“We appreciate there will be different opening hours as the bank, like everyone else, has to adapt to the changing business environment. That’s something we have all had to do.”
The change of heart has also been welcomed by local MP and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.
“RBS’ about turn on the proposed closure of the branch at Newtown St Boswells is welcome news for local residents and businesses alike,” said Mr Moore.
He added: “Access to bank services is absolutely vital for local people and I know that, as a rural area, the Borders can often fall prey to threatened closures such as this.
“I am very pleased that RBS has listened to the concerns raised by my constituents and agreed to keep the branch open, albeit with shorter opening hours.
“I will continue to monitor this situation and work with my constituents to keep our banking services, among others, as local and accessible as possible.”