Council to challenge bank over closures

The Royal Bank of Scotland in Hawick.
The Royal Bank of Scotland in Hawick.

Scottish Borders Council is urging bosses at the Royal Bank of Scotland to reconsider its decision to close six of the region’s nine branches.

The nationwide closures announced last month account for more than a third of the company’s branches in Scotland and are expected to result in almost 160 job losses, about 30 of them in the Borders.

Councillor Mark Rowley.

Councillor Mark Rowley.

At last Thursday’s full council meeting, the authority agreed to write to the bank urging it to consider alternatives to the proposed closures and to take heed of the impact they will have on communities.

The council’s executive member for business and economic development, Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, said: “RBS could, and should, come up with a much better exit strategy that could include a much more phased branch-by-branch approach. I also believe they must give a commitment to maintaining open-access ATMs and consider installing cash lines that can offer a wider range of services.

“They could share premises, partner with community hubs or use council buildings as bases from which to offer a banking service.

“I’m pushing them for evidence to back up their claims and encouraging them to work with us to explore more imaginative ways of delivering community and business banking that won’t look like the current betrayal of generations of loyal rural customers.

“They need to show a greater commitment to business banking. They have a huge agricultural client base facing the uncertainties of Brexit.

“We have an ambitious and new council looking to ensure the Borders is a prime choice for people to live, learn, work, invest or visit.

“We are actively pursuing the economic catalysts of a city region deal, a new south of Scotland enterprise agency and an ambitious Borderlands growth deal.

“We are maximising the benefits of the Borders Railway with regeneration in Galashiels and an ambitious Borders Business and Innovation Park at Tweedbank and incubator hubs and industrial development in Hawick and elsewhere in the Borders. Is that a landscape for banks to retreat from?

“RBS also needs to consider the wider effects on the communities that have supported them. I believe this savage tranche of bank closures is both premature and too drastic, given the Borders’ existing digital connectivity issues and our significant aged demographic.

“Their customers’ move to online banking is cited as the reason, yet the Borders has the third-worst access to broadband in mainland Scotland and a significantly ageing population. I’m sure many clients simply cannot bank online even if they wanted to.

“There is some evidence that when banking leaves town, it removes a significant reason to visit, so many folk head to the nearest town with a bank, taking all that discretionary spending in the local shops with them.”

RBS’s branches at Selkirk, Hawick, Melrose, Jedburgh, Duns and Eyemouth face being shut down.

Selkirk’s branch is scheduled to shut in May next year, and the other five are lined up to follow suit the month after, only leaving branches in Kelso, Galashiels and Peebles.

The issue was raised during an open question time by Jedburgh councillor Scott Hamilton.

He asked: “Considering the disappointing announcement from the Royal Bank of Scotland the other week, can the executive member confirm if there is anything the council will be doing to mitigate the impact on residents from this abandonment of branch services in the Borders?”