RBS announces reprieve for 10 closure-threatened Scottish branches

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RBS bosses have granted a reprieve to 10 closure-threatened banks in rural Scotland.

The announcement means the branches – most of which are in communities where there is no other branch for several miles – will remain open until the end of 2018, with an independent review carried out into whether they remain open long-term.

It comes just over two months after the RBS group announced plans to close 259 of its premises across the UK, with 62 branches of the RBS in Scotland and 197 NatWest branches south of the border all affected.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford – who has been in talks with RBS – hailed the decision as a victory for the “concentrated campaign” from his party to keep the banks open.

When the state-owned bank announced the closure programme in December 2017, it had insisted it was responding to changes in customer behaviour, including a rise in online banking.

Jane Howard, managing director for personal banking, said bosses had now reconsidered this as “we are committed to ensuring our customers and communities are able to continue accessing quality banking services”.

She stated: “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.”

As a result, RBS branches in Biggar, Beauly, Castlebay/Barra, Comrie, Douglas, Gretna, Inveraray, Melrose, Kyle and Tongue will remain open until at least the end of 2018.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Mr Blackford said: “This is very welcome news – following a concentrated campaign by the SNP to keep these banks open.

“While this will come as relief to the communities who can continue to use their branches, RBS have failed to perform a complete u-turn and the SNP will continue to campaign for the remaining branches, which we have been told will still close.”

Having pressed Prime Minister Theresa May on the matter, he accused the Tories of “letting Scotland down by failing to lift a finger to save these vital local banks from closure – leaving many communities with the damaging prospect of losing their last bank in town”.

In addition to keeping 10 branches open, RBS has said it will look to open new branches, improve the availability of ATMs in areas where there are closures and review the opening hours of its remaining branches.

Leaders of the Unite trade union branded the announcement a “stay of execution” and called on the bank to make clear what would happen to the other branches that have been earmarked for closure.

The union also demanded a moratorium on closures north and south of the border

Unite deputy Scottish secretary Mary Alexander said: “We believe that RBS has been forced to offer these concessions because of the campaign run by Unite and the 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?”

Unite national officer Rob MacGregor said: “Royal Bank of Scotland has finally heard the anger from staff and customers by abandoning the appalling Scottish branch closure plans.

“There is simply no justification for the taxpayer funded bank to continue with their shambolic closure programme in England and Wales.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the news that RBS has listened to local communities and has decided to keep some branches open, for the time being at least. However, there will still be many communities and RBS staff concerned about their future.

“RBS has put forward a mix of positive measures to support their customers and communities across Scotland but has made it clear that this decision is only guaranteed for a year.

“The issue of local branch closures in our rural communities is a concern far wider than RBS and a sector-wide solution needs to be found that helps keep our communities alive. This is the first step towards developing a long term, sustainable banking service for all communities‎ and the Scottish Government will continue to work with all banks to ensure that essential services remain accessible to all.”

In a statement, the Scottish Affairs Committee added: “We welcome today’s announcement from RBS as the first steps to addressing the concerns raised by the committee.

“However, given that there is a still an active closure programme being pursued by RBS, we remain to be convinced that the threat of serious consequences for remote or deprived communities has been removed.

“We hope that RBS will continue to consider the action they have taken and listen to local communities about the impact it will have on them.

“We will now be calling Ross McEwan to give evidence to clarify the contents of their announcements and press him on the future of the other branches in the RBS network.

“The Committee will also call the Treasury Minister responsible for representing the public interest in RBS, given that the Government are the majority shareholders.”

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