MPs call on Royal Bank of Scotland to halt branch closures

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

Royal Bank of Scotland bosses are being urged to halt a controversial branch closure programme currently under way in the Borders.

Selkirk’s branch closed its doors last week, and it will be followed by those at Duns next Tuesday, June 5; Eyemouth on Monday, June 11; Hawick on Thursday, June 14; and Jedburgh on Monday, June 18.

Melrose’s RBS branch was initially due to follow suit on Thursday, June 21, but it was one of 10 nationwide given a temporary reprieve in February.

Committee members are also calling for more clarity on how that stay of execution will operate as they are fearful the Melrose High Street branch and the nine others staying open for now will not be given a fair crack of the whip.

Their report, published on Sunday, follows an evidence session with RBS chief executive officer Ross McEwan earlier this month.

Committee vice-chairman John Lamont, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, said: “After the pathetic excuses we heard from Ross McEwan, the committee is absolutely right to conclude the bank is clueless about how its branch closures will affect communities in the Borders.

“RBS needs to look again at this decision, if only to reflect on the impact it is having on its brand image.

“RBS customers from across the Borders feel angry and betrayed, something which bank bosses appeared completely unaware of.

“In terms of Melrose’s temporary reprieve, we still don’t know who is going to be judging whether the branch should stay open, nor how they are going to carry out this assessment.

“This decision needs to be put back until we have some clarity.

“I’ve also been clear that while I accept that the UK Government cannot intervene directly, there was nothing stopping ministers from publicly criticising the decision.

“This report is right to conclude that the UK Government should be doing more to stand up for the communities affected by this news.”

Committee chairman Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire, agreed, saying: “The Royal Bank of Scotland did not consult adequately and, even at this last stage, should reverse their decision to close these branches.”

“RBS 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 an essential whose withdrawal is compounded by poor access to broadband and journey time to the next available facility.

“The reprieve offered to 10 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 current round of closures follows those of the bank’s branches in Chirnside, Greenlaw and Newtown four years ago.

Once complete, only its branches in Kelso, Galashiels and Peebles will be left, along, potentially, with Melrose’s.