Anger after review fails to save Melrose’s Royal Bank of Scotland branch

The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Melrose.
The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Melrose.

The Royal Bank of Scotland is to press ahead with controversial plans to close its Melrose branch, sparking anger in the town.

The High Street bank was one of 62 nationwide, including six in the Borders, earmarked for closure by RBS bosses in December last year, but the outcry sparked by that announcement prompted a rethink resulting in a stay of execution until the end of this year.

It was one of 10 branches given a reprieve in February, but all but two of them, including Melrose’s, now face the axe after all following a review by accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael, RBS has confirmed.

Melrose’s RBS, originally due to shut in June, is the last bank serving the town’s population of 2,510 since the closure of its Bank of Scotland rival in Market Square in October 2016, the nearest alternatives being four miles away in Galashiels.

RBS had agreed to be bound by the findings of Johnston Carmichael’s review and now plans to shut the Melrose bank and seven others in mid-January after its report was published yesterday.

That move, though not unexpected, has prompted an angry response in the town and further afield.

Borders MP John Lamont has described it as “quite simply absurd” and has issued an 11th-hour plea for a further rethink to RBS.

“These recommendations are quite simply absurd,” said the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP.

“The report recognises that customers are not happy with the mobile branch alternative, that telephone banking is largely unpopular and that digital banking is impossible for many due to poor broadband.

“It then goes on to set out how customer numbers at the Melrose branch are actually increasing and have rocketed since the possibility of the branch staying open was first announced, yet they still recommend the last bank in Melrose closes.

“That makes absolutely no sense.

“What this review does demonstrate is that Borderers have stepped up to the plate, used their branch in numbers and told Johnston Carmichael exactly what they think of the loss of yet another bank.

“RBS should look closely at the figures and consider keeping the branch open anyway, but frankly, given the way they have treated communities in the Borders so far, I won’t hold my breath.

“At the very least, the bank needs to keep the ATM open and look at both moving and increasing its mobile branch visits.

“We have already seen the impact of these branch closures on other communities across the Borders, with businesses and residents struggling to do their banking and problems with the replacement mobile bank service.”

Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker agrees, saying: “It’s disappointing that RBS has decided ultimately to close the branch as it’s the only bank left in Melrose.

“There’s a real feeling of bitterness and upset about it and about the ingratitude being shown by RBS as this isn’t really a private-sector business. It’s had tens of billions of pounds of public money spent on keeping it afloat.

“There’s a feeling the review was a box-ticking exercise and this closure was going to happen anyway.

“It’s also a real own goal as many RBS customers have already taken their business elsewhere, and more will follow.”

South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth added: “This is the last act of betrayal from RBS as they will leave much of the Borders with no RBS branch.

“RBS bosses have shown absolutely no care and consideration for the local communities they serve, and many people here locally will now rightly see this so-called independent review as nothing other than sham as only one bank branch in the south of Scotland has been saved.

“The closure of the Melrose RBS branch will have a negative impact on the local community and local businesses who rely on its services and advice.

“I am appalled that the UK Government, the owners of RBS, failed to take any action to stop these closures.

“The savings made by closing these branches will save RBS pennies compared to the huge profits that they have been posting.

“When RBS collapsed, it was hard-pressed taxpayers who saved them with a huge bailout, and the way they repay the public is to walk away from communities across our region.”

The two branches to remain open following this year’s review are those at Biggar in South Lanarkshire and Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

The other seven branches shutting, besides Melrose’s, are those at Comrie, Beauly, Douglas, Gretna, Inverary, Kyle and Tongue.

The five Borders branches already shut by RBS this year were those at Jedburgh, Hawick, Eyemouth, Duns and Selkirk.

Their closures followed those of the bank’s branches in Chirnside, Greenlaw and Newtown four years ago.

After January, the only RBS branches left in the Borders will be those at Kelso, Galashiels and Peebles.

Simon Watson, managing director of personal banking at RBS, said: “We would like to thank Johnston Carmichael for their review of 10 Royal Bank of Scotland branches that were due to close.

“These branches were selected because, unlike the other branches that were closed, they were nearly all the last bank in town and more than nine miles to the nearest alternative Royal Bank branch.

“We accept Johnston Carmichael’s recommendations in full.

“Johnston Carmichael has judged that there are exceptional circumstances in Biggar and Barra and has recommended that these branches remain open, so they will.

“We also note the further recommendations for enhancements that can be made in six of the branch locations and can confirm we will be accepting these recommendations in full.

“The report highlights the difficult nature of branch closure decisions.

“We know branches are important to many communities, but equally we know that fewer and fewer people are using them as more people bank online.

“In every case of a branch closing, we are committed to providing the best possible range of banking alternatives, including mobile branches, banking in the local post office, community bankers and remote services such as telephone banking.

“With today’s report, we are able to say for the first time with certainty that there will be no further reviews of our branch network in the immediate future – until at least 2020.”

Johnston Carmichael’s report can be seen at johnstoncarmichael.com/rbsbranchreview.

It recommends that a free-to-use, 24-hour cashpoint be retained either at the same site site or elsewhere in the town and that more mobile branch visits are made during the summer and especially for the Melrose Sevens rugby tournament in April and Borders Book Festival in June.