RBS has announced that 10 of its branches in rural Scotland are to be given a stay of execution and will remain open until at least the end of the year.
The move has been announced following the outcry over the publicly-owned bank’s decision to close 62 branches across the country.
Of the 62 previously earmarked for closure, 10 will be spared for the time being.
Their future will depend on whether they can convince an independent reviewer at the end of the year that their business has increased to make them a going concern in the future.
RBS are insistent that the move has been brought about by the bank listening to its customers rather than as a result of a political deal.
Alongside the decision to keep the 10 branches open, RBS has come up with a series of initiatives in an attempt to maintain the bank’s links to local communities.
Key to that will be a proposal to give branch premises to community groups if they can demonstrate they have a viable business plan to use the buildings for three years.
In addition, RBS intends to set up contactless terminals for RBS business customers. This will include training in their use so that entrepreneurs become less reliant on branches and move towards a cashless society.
RBS said it would commit to keeping ATMs in rural areas where they are the last cash machines in a town. ATMs will remain if there is not a free to use alternative cash machine within a kilometre.
Opening hours in branches in larger country towns will be extended to help customers in the smaller settlements that are losing banks.
RBS will work with local Post Offices. The bank will train them in detecting fraud and scams as Post Offices take on work generated by RBS branch closures.
The routes taken by mobile banks will be reviewed in an attempt to ensure they serve rural communities better.
And three new branches will be opened at yet to be disclosed locations.
RBS has said the move to digital banking is behind its decision to close branches. Given the increasing numbers
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford was criticised by political opponents at the weekend for hinting at a possible deal with RBS to reverse some closures.
It let to speculation about a ‘turf war’ between Mr Blackford and the Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee, chaired by SNP MP Pete Wishart, over who would lead talks with RBS in search of a compromise.
Hailing the announcement by the bank, Mr Blackford accused the UK Government of having “failed at every turn” to “hold RBS to account”.
As far as the SNP is concerned, we’ve had a robust campaign in parliament and elsewhere... I’ve personally asked three questions at Prime Ministers’ questions. The SNP has secured two debates... I do want to say to Theresa May and her government, you failed at every turn to recognise the anger in the communities that a bank that we collective saved in 2008, that we poured £45 billion of taxpayers funds into - you have done nothing to hold RBS to account.
I have spoken to the Treasury on a number of occasions to say you must join with us to put pressure on RBS. At every turn they refused to do so, so we have had to lead this campaign.
“I’m grateful that the Scottish Affairs Select Committee took up some of the running on this as well, but I think because of the pressure, and because of the leadership that the SNP has given to this campaign, we’ve got the decision that has been taken by RBS that 10 branches are saved up to the end of 2018.”
But the SNP’s Westminster leader faced further criticism over his welcome for the announcement. Conservative MP John Lamont, who is still set to lose five branches with a sixth at Melrose now given a stay of execution, posted on twitter that it was an “astonishing reaction from Ian Blackford and the SNP”.
The Borders MP added: “Have they actually read what RBS have announced? They are doing laps of honour despite dozens of branches being shut across Scotland. How many ‘saved’ branches will still be open this time next year?”
Commenting on these changes, Managing Director for Personal Banking, Jane Howard, said:
“We are committed to ensuring our customers and communities are able to continue accessing quality banking services.
“Having listened to the concerns of customers, communities and elected representatives from all political parties we have decided to keep ten branches open until the end of 2018.
Ms Howard added: “We’ll continue to invest in our branch network and services across Scotland.”