MPs hit out at bank bosses for refusing to rethink branch closure plans

Borders MP John Lamont speaking at this week's Scottish affairs committee inquiry into impending RBS branch closures.
Borders MP John Lamont speaking at this week's Scottish affairs committee inquiry into impending RBS branch closures.

Royal Bank of Scotland bosses have been accused of being ungrateful and intransigent over their refusal to reconsider their plans to close scores of branches, including six in the Borders.

RBS’s managing director for personal banking, Jane Howard, and chief executive for personal and business banking, Les Matheson, gave evidence to an inquiry by the UK Government’s Scottish affairs committee yesterday, January 17, confirming that the closures are a done deal and refusing to rule out shutting even more branches.

The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Selkirk is one of six in the region facing the axe.

The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Selkirk is one of six in the region facing the axe.

MPs were unimpressed by that stance, and committee chairman Pete Wishart said afterwards: “The whole committee has been left disappointed and frustrated with the unsatisfactory appearance of RBS executives.

“They seem to not be listening to the deep concerns from communities right across Scotland over their branch closure programme.

“It is abundantly clear that RBS did not consult with anyone over their plan to close a third of their branches.

“They do not seem to appreciate just how devastating the loss of a bank can be to a local community and quite how important easy access to banking services is to individuals and businesses.

“Nor do they appear to have any intention to reconsider their position despite the views expressed by local people or by Scottish Rural Action, Unite Scotland and Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

“Instead, they could not rule out further branch closures.

“We should not forget that this is a company whose very survival was assured by £45bn from the tax payer, who still own a 70% stake, yet we were told that, due to changes in ‘customer behaviour’, branches will close, creating savings of £9.5m.

“Instead people will have to rely on internet banking in areas where connections are poor or a mobile branch which will be available for perhaps an hour a week.

“At a minimum, RBS needs to show greater care for their customers and show more openness in how they reach decisions that have such serious consequences for so many people.”

Fellow committee member John Lamont, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, was also disappointed by the RBS pair’s determination to stick to their guns and by the bank’s refusal to attend meetings about the closures he and Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton are currently organising.

“By abandoning rural Scotland, RBS are breaking their promise that their customers are in control of how they do their banking,” said Mr Lamont.

“Many people in the Borders do not want to bank online or over the phone, and some are unable to because of problems with connectivity.

“I put it to RBS that they were effectively abandoning customers in rural areas and thinking only in terms of the central belt where branch closures have less of an impact.

“I remain far from convinced that the bank have properly considered the impact on customers, businesses and high streets of these closures or even conformed to their own social responsibility measures.

“I’m also disappointed that the bank is refusing to face customers in the Borders and attend the public meetings I’ll be hosting with Rachael Hamilton in Duns, Hawick and Melrose next month.

“The committee was also told that the bank did not carry out any meaningful consultation with communities before the closures were announced.

“Worryingly, it was revealed that post office managers will be financially liable if they accept any forged money by accident, putting even greater pressure on local post offices.

“I shall be fighting tooth and nail to keep these branches.”

Mr Matheson said: “We are very clear about our responsibility to our customers, customers that we have had for many years, and we take that responsibility very seriously – we have 1.7 million customers across Scotland – but we have to look carefully at our business and our business model and how things are changing.

“We understand the support that the bank has had, and clearly we appreciate that, but again, we have to take account of changes that are happening.”

Less than 1% of RBS customers go into a branch on a weekly basis, with a 42% reduction in branch transactions in Scotland having been seen since 2014, he said.

“We understand that customers are concerned about the change, that customers find change difficult, and we are committed to helping them through that process, and we have lots of ways of doing that,” he said.

Ms Howard added: “We are both personally committed, as are all of our colleagues, to helping every individual customer.”

RBS is shutting 62 of its branches in Scotland, with almost 160 job losses.

Six of its nine branches in the Borders are due to close in May and June this year, leaving only those in Kelso, Galashiels and Peebles.

The six branches facing the axe are those at Jedburgh, Melrose, Hawick, Selkirk, Duns and Eyemouth.