Furious customers have called on the Royal Bank of Scotland to rethink the decision to close six of its branches in the Borders.
Residents and traders aired their views at public meetings in Duns, Hawick and Melrose last week, following December’s announcement that the bank was pulling out of those towns, as well as Jedburgh and Eyemouth.
Many feel that the alternative services offered by the bank – to access accounts digitally, in a mobile branch, or via the post office – are unsuitable.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton, who organised the meetings with Tory colleague John Lamont MP, said: “RBS say footfall is down – but it’s not down here in the Borders.
“Our banks are busy, they’re vibrant, and they are a social setting for people to meet, particularly the elderly who are vulnerable to rural isolation.”
Around 200 people attended the meetings, with the range of concerns expressed including the impact on elderly residents, businesses and charities. People also questioned whether mobile branches were fit for purpose.
At Hawick, a number of local councillors attended the meeting to express their concern that the loss of another major business would harm efforts to regenerate the town.
Councillor Watson McAteer, Honorary Provost, said: “It’s the message it sends out. We’re trying really hard to develop Hawick, closing the RBS is just about the worst thing that can happen at this time.”
Rev Lisa-Jane Rankin, minister at Teviothead Parish Church, said that many of her parishioners had only switched to RBS 18 months ago, when Clydesdale quit the high street.
“RBS said that they would not be closing, and so they moved their business over, just to be told they may have to move again,” she said.
“It will also cause problems for any coffee mornings or fundraising events that we may have. I’ve contacted the Church of Scotland and we’re not insured for loss of money from the premises, it has to go to the bank.”
Although the Melrose branch is one of 10 across Scotland to have been given a stay of execution last week in response to the public outcry, residents there fear it is only a temporary reprieve, with the bank earmarked for closure next year.
Kevin and Sophie Donaghy, who run gift shop Butterfly on the town’s High Street, said they felt ‘completely let down’ by RBS. “We bank with them so it will make things difficult for us, but it’s more than that,” Mr Donaghy said.
“Banks drive footfall. People go to the bank, and they pop into the shops. By closing it, whether you bank at RBS or not, it does have an impact.”
He added: “If we treated customers like this we would be out of business like that.”
RBS claims its original plan to shut 62 of its Scottish branches was based on reduced footfall, cost, and the fact that its digital presence is getting over 25 million log-ins a month.
But Borderers have pointed out that many people, particularly the elderly, do not feel safe banking online. One Melrose pensioner said: “I’m in my 70s and I’m terrified of using the RBS on the internet. I’ve read about little old ladies losing all their money, and I’m frightened of losing thousands of pounds.”
Speaking after the meetings, John Lamont MP said: “To have 200 people turn up is a real demonstration of the level of feeling in the Borders about branch closures. Many more who were unable to attend these meetings have contacted me to stress their concerns and I’m now hoping to fit in further meetings in other locations facing closures.”
He added: “I think that RBS have been taken aback by the huge reaction to this. The fact that they have been forced in to a rethink already is a ray of hope that the battle to save our branches is not over yet.”