Melrose’s Royal Bank of Scotland branch being given stay of execution

The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Melrose is no longer facing the axe.
The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Melrose is no longer facing the axe.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has confirmed reports that plans to shut its Melrose branch are being put on hold.

The High Street bank is one of 10 being given a reprieve in response to the outcry sparked by RBS’s announcement in December that it was planning to shut 62 branches nationwide later this year.

All 52 other branches earmarked for closure, including five in the Borders, are still set to shut as originally planned.

The 10 branches no longer facing the axe are being given one-year stays of execution because there are no other banks nearby.

Of the six in the Borders originally in line to be closed, only Melrose’s meets that criterion as it has been the sole bank there since the closure of its Bank of Scotland rival in Market Square in October 2016.

All five other towns in the Borders that RBS is about to pull out of – Hawick, Jedburgh, Selkirk, Duns and Eyemouth – are home to Bank of Scotland branches.

Hawick and Jedburgh host two other banks apiece besides their RBS branches, a Santander in the former and TSB in the latter.

RBS has also pledged to retain or replace its cashpoints in towns it is pulling out of if there are no others that are free to use within a kilometre of the branches being shut.

Borders MP John Lamont has welcomed RBS’s willingness to do a partial U-turn but says it needs to go much further.

He is also calling on RBS chief executive Ross McEwan to explain his bank’s change of heart and why further branches cannot be spared too.

The Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP, also vice-chairman of the UK Government’s Scottish affairs committee, said: “These revised plans from RBS are simply nowhere near good enough.

“They would still mean five branches in the Borders closing their doors, with only Melrose given a temporary stay of execution.

“The bank has shown itself to be completely out of touch with the needs of customers, particularly in rural areas like the Borders.

“The acknowledgement from the bank of the issues that local post offices will face and the need to keep ATMs is helpful, but the only positive part of this news is that it shows that RBS is capable of changing its mind after initially refusing to budge.

“I am clear that the campaign to save our local branches must continue.

“This announcement is just an attempt by the bank to avoid any further scrutiny.

The time has now come for Ross McEwan to come to the Scottish affairs committee to explain the bank’s decision.”

Mr Lamont and Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton are hosting three meetings this week to rally opposition among disgruntled customers.

They are being held on Friday, February 9, at Duns Volunteer Hall at 12.30pm, Hawick Town Hall at 4pm and Melrose Corn Exchange at 6pm.

Confirming its change of heart today, RBS’s managing director for personal banking, Jane Howard, said: “We are committed to ensuring our customers and communities are able to continue accessing quality banking services.

“Having listened to the concerns of customers, communities and elected representatives from all political parties, we have decided to keep 10 branches open until the end of 2018.

“During this period, we will monitor the level of transactions and new income at each branch, and if there is a sustained and viable increase in both, then we will reconsider the closure of the relevant branch as part of a full independent review.

“We’ll continue to invest in our branch network and services across Scotland.”

The other nine branches being spared for now are at Biggar, Beauly, Castlebay/Barra, Comrie, Douglas, Gretna, Inveraray, Kyle and Tongue.

Mr Lamont isn’t the only one unimpressed by RBS’s refusal to take more branches off its hit-list.

South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth said: “This dodgy deal just doesn’t go far enough.

“There is rightly a feeling of injustice in the communities that are losing their banks without any local consultation.

“The fact that the Melrose branch is only reprieved until the end of the year will act as a real disincentive for customers to join the bank or staff to stay in their jobs as it may just be a short-term-stay fix.

“In the meantime, those staff losing their jobs and the public losing yet more services in Selkirk, Eyemouth, Hawick and Jedburgh will rightly feel aggrieved at the way they are being treated.

“RBS should reverse all of these closure proposals and give a longer-term guarantee to staff and customers.

“If they don’t, then frankly the UK Government should get a grip and intervene.

“The Government own the majority of shares in the bank and could put a stop to these closures now.

“Their failure to do so and their inaction has been a total dereliction of duty.”

Mary Alexander, deputy Scottish secretary for the union Unite, said: “We should be clear about this – it is a stay of execution.

“We believe that RBS has been forced to offer these concessions because of the campaign run by Unite and local communities to expose the devastation of what the closures mean for communities and jobs.

“But if it’s good enough to make these concessions, what are the bank prepared to do about the other 52 communities facing the axe.

“RBS has opened the door for further consideration of its entire programme. Otherwise, they stand accused of making expedient concessions now to mitigate the PR disaster the closures have become.

“We remain gravely concerned about the remaining 52 closures and will be seeking an urgent meeting with top bank officials about this.”

Garry Clark, the Federation of Small Businesses’ development manager for the east of Scotland, added: “Many businesses in and around Melrose will be pleased that the local RBS branch has been granted a reprieve, but for those firms who use the other five Borders branches slated for closure, today’s news will be of little comfort.

“Similarly, while RBS’s ATM promise sounds reassuring, does it open the door to the branch dramatically reducing the number of cash machines it maintains across Scotland?

“While we accept that RBS have made some concessions, and we look forward to better understanding the details of this announcement, this doesn’t look like the change of heart for which we were looking.”