The Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive has hailed “exciting plans for the future” less than two weeks before widespread branch closures are set to begin.
Appearing before the Scottish affairs committee at Westminster on Tuesday, Ross McEwan defended plans to shut 52 branches across Scotland, including five in the Borders.
Mr McEwan acknowledged that closing branches was “difficult” for the communities, and said that the decisions had not been taken lightly.
But he insisted that shutting branches - including those in Selkirk, Jedburgh, Hawick, Duns and Eyemouth - was “the best way forward” based on footfall and the way people banked.
Addressing members, Mr McEwan said he wanted to set out the bank’s exciting plans for the future, and the range of services on offer in Scotland.
He added: “Our branches do remain a core part of our service and we will not look at the size of our branch network in Scotland until at least 2020.”
Unite Scotland described Mr McEwan’s appearance as an exercise in evasion, while Borders MP and Scottish affairs committee member John Lamont said the bank chief’s evidence showed “a complete lack of understanding about the impact losing a bank will have on rural communities”.
Mr Lamont told him: “I’ve held meetings in my constituency in every one of the six towns that are going to be losing their branches, and I’ve never seen so many residents turn up to express their anger and let down by the bank.”
Les Matheson, head of personal and business banking at RBS, said that he had visited the area, and that had not been the bank’s experience.
But Mr Lamont said: “The truth is that residents feel angry and betrayed by the bank they saved, as taxpayers, just a few years ago.
“If RBS had accepted my invitation to attend the public meetings I held in the Borders, they might have a better understanding of the level of anger amongst rural communities.”
The committee heard that RBS had trebled its profits to more than three quarters of a billion pounds in the first three months of this year, but that it was still resisting any block on closing 52 branches - a move which will save the company just £9.5m.
Lyn Turner of Unite Scotland, who attended the hearing, said that the bank had abandoned all social responsibility for its customers, communities and staff.
She added: “The chief executive today tried to defend the indefensible. His version of the facts is totally different from ours.”
The RBS branch in Selkirk is set to close on May 21. It will be followed by the Duns branch on June 5, Eyemouth on June 11, Hawick on June 14 and Jedburgh on June 18.
Melrose is one of 10 Scottish branches to have won a stay of execution, with a decision on its future due to be made before the end of the year.