Borders MP backing calls for new law to save banks from axe

Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton and MP John Lamont outside the now-closed Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Hawick.
Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton and MP John Lamont outside the now-closed Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Hawick.

Calls for the UK Government to consider drawing up laws to make it harder for banks to shut branches are being backed by Borders MP John Lamont.

That recommendation is being made by Westminster’s Scottish affairs committee, and Mr Lamont, a member of the committee, is hoping it will be taken on board by ministers.

A report published by the committee last week, entitled Access to Cash, urges the UK Government to seek assurances from banks that they will not close any branches that are the last ones left in their towns.

It also recommends that if banks refuse to make such a commitment, legislation should be considered to prevent such branches being closed.

On top of that, it advises that meaningful public consultation should take place before any bank closes and that steps should be taken to prevent further loss of cashpoints.

The report follows an inquiry by the committee and also comes after the closures by the Royal Bank of Scotland of six of its nine branches in the Borders last year – at Melrose, Jedburgh, Hawick, Eyemouth, Duns and Selkirk.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Mr Lamont said: “During our inquiry, the evidence we received from bank bosses was far from reassuring.

“Just as we saw with the cavalier attitude of RBS last year, banks appear unable to understand how important branches are to many rural communities.

“That is why I back these calls to force banks to keep the last branch in town.

“Many communities in the Borders have already lost their banks, but this move would help protect places like Selkirk and Kelso.

“A number of these banks have been bailed out with taxpayers’ money, so it’s disgraceful that they think they can abandon rural communities with so little thought.

“We also need to look at how we can better protect rural ATMs.

“While habits are changing, rural communities still need access to cash and the loss of ATMs can have a big blow on local businesses.”

Last year’s closures mean there are now just 21 banks left in the Borders.

Besides the RBS branches in Galashiels, Kelso and Peebles, they are the Bank of Scotland’s outlets in Selkirk, Jedburgh, Hawick, Galashiels, Kelso, Peebles, Eyemouth, Duns, Innerleithen and Newcastleton; TSBs in Peebles, Kelso, Hawick, Jedburgh and Galashiels; Santanders in Hawick and Galashiels; and a Clydesdale in Galashiels.

The committee’s report, launched last Thursday at Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire, can be read online at publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmscotaf/1996/1996.pdf

Committe chairman Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire, said: “It is disgraceful that banks think they can abandon Scottish towns with no access to essential financial services.

“Last year, my committee demanded that RBS halt their march of bank branch closures, but since then the picture seems to have just deteriorated further.

“In 2018 in Scotland, 355 ATMs were shut down, and bank branches continue to close at an alarming rate.

Scottish communities are becoming cash-free against their will, and it is time the UK Government stepped in to intervene.

“My committee is calling on the Government to stop banks from closing the last remaining bank branch in town.

“It is essential that towns are left with at least one bank, so if the banks won’t make this commitment themselves, the Government should consider legislating.”