Bank chief to answer queries over closures

Rachael Hamilton MSP and John Lamont MP are fighting the closure of six RBS branches in the Borders.
Rachael Hamilton MSP and John Lamont MP are fighting the closure of six RBS branches in the Borders.

Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Ross McEwan is to be questioned by MPs next month about the planned closure of 52 branches, including five in the Borders.

Mr McEwan is set to appear before the UK Government’s Scottish affairs committee on Tuesday, May 8, after members insisted he appear in person.

Representatives of the New Zealander provided written information to the committee in February, but its chairman, Pete Wishart, said there were still questions to be answered.

That appearance comes after RBS announced in December that it would be closing 62 branches throughout Scotland in 2018, including those in Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh, Melrose, Duns and Eyemouth.

In the face of a public backlash, the bank subsequently announced a temporary stay of execution for 10 branches in towns not home to any other banks, including Melrose’s, now set to stay open until the end of the year.

Mr McEwan has finally agreed to appear before the committee after Mr Wishart warned him it was his “final opportunity” to do so before resorting to formal powers to summon him.

Committee members including Borders MP John Lamont will ask Mr McEwan how RBS would respond to a request from the UK Government, as the majority shareholder, to reconsider its closure programme.

He will also be asked why RBS took the decision to delay the closures of some branches, and why that opportunity was not extended to others.

Dismayed Borderers have highlighted a number of banking issues they will face since the announcement, with around 300 residents attending a series of meetings organised by Mr Lamont and Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton to rally opposition to the closure plans.

Concerns include lack of adequate broadband coverage necessary to access digital services, how charities and community groups that only deal in cash will cope and lack of access to banking services for elderly and disabled people unable to climb into RBS’s mobile branch van.

Mrs Hamilton raised the latter concern with RBS after hearing reports of disabled customers having to do their personal banking standing in a car park.

She said: “I am told by my constituents that access to RBS mobile branches is impossible in some cases.

“This is simply not good enough, and RBS needs to provide services open to all.

“It remains clear to me that the best solution to this unfortunate saga is for RBS to reverse its decision to close branches that provide vital services to many local people and businesses.”

However, RBS’s personal and business banking chief, Les Matheson, insists that people with access issues will not be disproportionately affected by branch closures.

In a letter to Mrs Hamilton, he says the bank takes its legal obligations under the 2010 Equality Act “extremely seriously”.

He adds: “We take steps to ensure that reasonable adjustments are put in place so that disabled customers are able to access our banking services, and we strive to ensure that our banking services are accessible to all of our customers.

“If a disabled or elderly customer, or a customer with young children, has difficulty in accessing the services provided by our mobile branch, we would always encourage them to speak directly to a member of our mobile bank team.”

RBS also plans to introduce community bankers making visits to vulnerable and disabled people in their homes, but they will not be able to deliver cash services.