Anger as RBS ‘decimates’ its branch network

RBS said it will close roughly a quarter of its branches — 62 Royal Bank of Scotland branches and 197 NatWest branches — and cut 680 jobs as it encourages customers to use digital services.

The cuts will leave the RBS group with around 744 branches — down from 2,278 in 2007.

The move by RBS — still 71% owned by the UK taxpayer following its £45 billion bailout during the financial crisis — drew criticism from politicians.

“Bailed out by the taxpayer and they repay our communities by withdrawing from them,” tweeted the SNP’s Ian Blackford, adding: “This has to be stopped.”

The Scottish Government called on the UK Government to establish and enforce a guaranteed minimum level of service provision for essential banking services, “recognising the importance of continued access to banking for communities across Scotland, and across the UK.”

The UK Government’s Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “I am very disappointed to hear of the plans by the Royal Bank of Scotland to close so many of their branches across Scotland.

“This is a serious issue for the communities they serve.

“While usage of branches may have dropped, they are still a lifeline for many people, especially in rural areas.

“I’ll be seeking a meeting with the senior leadership of RBS to discuss these closures as a matter of urgency.”

Unite, a union that represents staff at RBS, said RBS was “decimating” its branch network.

“This announcement will forever change the face of banking in this country resulting in over a thousand staff losing their jobs and hundreds of high streets without any banking facilities,” said Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer.

An RBS spokesperson said: “More and more of our customers are choosing to do their everyday banking online or on mobile.

“Since 2014 the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40% and mobile transactions have increased by 73% over the same period.

“Over five million customers now use our mobile banking app and one in five only bank with us digitally.

“We’re providing our customers with more ways to bank than ever before – they can choose from a range of digital, to face-to-face options.

“As customers continue to change the way they bank with us, we must change the way we serve them, so we are investing in our more popular branches and shaping our network, replacing traditional bricks and mortar branches with alternative ways to bank, including; Community Bankers, Mobile Bank on Wheels, and Post Offices, so that we can reach even more customers.

“We expect these branch closures to result in around 680 redundancies.

“We realise this is difficult news for our colleagues and we are doing everything we can to support those affected.

“We will ensure compulsory redundancies are kept to an absolute minimum.”

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convenor of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “This is bitterly disappointing news, particularly for those bank workers whose jobs are under threat, but also for the Scottish towns, cities and villages affected.

“Ultimately, these changes will make it more difficult to run a business in much of Scotland – including many deprived communities and tourism hotspots.

“While many small businesses use online banking, that doesn’t mean they don’t handle cash, and therefore need to visit a branch.

“Further, many of the branches under threat are in parts of the country with particularly poor mobile and broadband coverage — a fact to which RBS seems to be paying scant regard.

“It is time for the big banks to come clean regarding their long-term plans.

“If they’re going to wind down their branch network, they need to develop proper alternatives to service all of their customers’ needs.

“So far promises made regarding smart ATMs and mobile banking have not been delivered.”

The Scottish Government’s Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, urged the UK Government to take steps to ensure communities, particularly vulnerable customers and small businesses, have access to day to day banking services.

In a letter to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Wheelhouse wrote: “I am deeply concerned at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s announcement that they are to make further deep and damaging cuts to their branch network in Scotland.

“I am sure that you will also have concern at the rate of branch closures at RBS, and Nat West.

“Scotland is proud of its banking heritage and has done much to build the industry globally and RBS has grown due to its ability to rely upon a loyal customer base here, through good times and bad.

“Today’s announcement of a further 62 branch closures, coming as they do after previous tranches of branch closures affecting rural and urban Scotland, will leave many communities without ready access to essential day-to-day banking services and is a genuine body blow to our high streets.

“These cuts affect some of our most remote rural communities, and many market towns in rural areas are also losing their branch, with potentially significant impacts on business customers, local personal customers and visitors, with the worst impact felt by vulnerable customers and those small businesses, who are the backbone of the economy, who rely on the services provided by a physical, local branch presence.

“While we appreciate that many customers are choosing to access services digitally, and there clearly has been rapid growth of online banking at RBS in particular, there are many customers for whom this is neither a practical option, nor an option they are comfortable with, perhaps where they may be more fearful of online fraud.

“For these customers there is an imperative to meet their requirement for access to physical face-to-face banking services.

“I am therefore writing to you, in advance of a proposed discussion, to ask: what will the UK Government do to halt or reverse the continuing trend of branch closures; to preserve access to essential banking services; and to mitigate the impact of this announcement on the individual customers, communities and businesses affected?

“I call on the UK Government to establish and enforce a guaranteed minimum level of service provision for essential banking services, recognising the importance of continued access to banking for communities across Scotland, and across the UK.

“In doing so, I recognise the increasing partnership working between the retail banks and Post Office Limited, to ensure provision of basic banking services is retained in local communities, albeit, even where this is feasible, this does still result in a significantly reduced range of services that can be undertaken on a face to face basis and the continued availability of post office branches is vulnerable to sustainability and succession issues in many cases.

“Similar issues arise in respect of availability of ATMs, as this key service may be vulnerable where the last branch in town is being lost or where the closure of the RBS branch leaves the community vulnerable to the loss of any third party remaining ATM provision subsequently.

“This is obviously a key issue for tourism and hospitality businesses as well as local retail outlets that do not yet have cashless payment technology or for whom the cost of installing such technology is a challenge.

“I would urge you to consider a strategic dialogue with banks and ATM stakeholders, such as LINK, and wider stakeholders to ensure that a robust network of ATMs is retained in all communities affected in Scotland and across the UK.

“Crucially, as the UK Government maintains a majority shareholding in Royal Bank of Scotland, and also retain all legislative and regulatory powers in respect of financial services, I seek your support in asking the Royal Bank, and other banks that may well yet announce further programmes of closures, to call a halt to this potentially damaging programme of closures, while banks, their stakeholders and both Governments consider how best to take account of its obligation to its customers to provide a banking service that meets their needs.

“The UK Government, as the bank’s majority shareholder, in our view, should use its influence through not agreeing to any closures in locations where no face-to-face alternatives are in place, and should require the Royal Bank of Scotland to ensure that practical and sustainable alternative banking services are put in place before any closures are signed off.

“While I recognise the financial imperative to ensure the flotation of the Government’s shares in RBS, the pace of this should be appropriate and, indeed, customer loyalty should not be abused in any consequential cost reductions to ensure fitness for re-flotation.

“I am concerned that insufficient resource is being allocated to invest in mobile banking services to ensure adequate geographic coverage can be delivered following branch closures, but I would hope this could be resolved in time to put in place the required provision to meet customers’ needs before any closures take effect.

“I understand that our request for a call has been met positively, which I welcome, and this is in the process of being arranged for Monday, but given the cumulative loss of branches within RBS, I would request a meeting with you and with senior staff at the Royal Bank of Scotland to discuss in detail what can be done to support the staff and customers affected by this, and other recent announcements, and to ensure that essential banking services continue to be available to those who need them. ”

The 62 Royal Bank of Scotland branches to close are all in Scotland. They are:

– Aberdeen Bridge of Don
– Aberfeldy
– Airdrie
– Alloa
– Annan
– Aviemore
– Banff
– Bannockburn
– Beauly
– Bellshill
– Biggar
– Bonnyrigg
– Bridge of Allan
– Campbeltown
– Carnwath
– Castlebay
– Comrie
– Douglas Lanarkshire
– Dunbar
– Dunblane
– Dundee Stobswell
– Duns
– Dyce
– Ellon
– Eyemouth
– Glasgow Business Centre
– Grantown-on-Spey
– Gretna
– Hamilton Cadzow Street
– Hawick
– Huntly
– Inveraray
– Inverness Queensgate
– Jedburgh
– Kilbirnie
– Kilwinning
– Kinross
– Kyle
– Langholm
– Larkhall
– Lesmahagow
– Linlithgow
– Lockerbie
– Mallaig
– Melrose
– Montrose
– Nairn
– North Berwick
– Penicuik
– Perth South Street
– Pitlochry
– Renfrew
– Rothesay
– Saltcoats
– Selkirk
– Stepps
– Strathaven
– Tain
– Tannochside
– Tongue
– Turriff
– Wick