Heart 'ripped out' of Scots communities by 'nightmare' bank closures, MSPs told

The crippling impact of bank closures on communities, charities, pensioners and tourism have been set out in a series of stark warnings to MSPs.

Ross McEwan, RBS chief executive giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on the banks plans to close more than 50 branches in Scotland.
Ross McEwan, RBS chief executive giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on the banks plans to close more than 50 branches in Scotland.

Many areas face a “nightmare” getting cash and access to banking services without travelling miles from their home, with growing concerns that the heart is being ripped out of many towns and villages as their last bank disappears.

The tourism industry, which supports thousand of jobs and accounts for hundreds of millions of pounds in spending, could also be hit as visitors struggle to access cash in some areas, evidence gathered by Holyrood’s economy committee has also revealed.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs committee has already called on RBS to halt plans to axe up to 62 branches across Scotland, warning this will be “devastating” for communities affected. MSPs at Holyrood will this week hear from community groups affected who are warning that the closures will have a disastrous effect.

Elderly Scots are among those worst affected, Age Scotland said in its submission to the committee.

The charity said: “We are told by older people that dealing with a call centre for inquiries which they used to undertake in branch can be unnecessarily stressful due to the quality of the sound, remembering complicated passwords and security answers, having to verbally articulate what their issue is and the fear of phone scams.”

Going to the bank is part of a routine for many older Scots that “gets them out of the house”, the body adds, and there are fears the closures could undermine efforts to tackle the “devastating impact” of loneliness and social isolation.

The impact on smaller towns is set out in blunt terms by residents.

In Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway, the impact has been “awful” according to Erica Johnson, chair of the local community council.

She said: “People have to drive or take the bus [2 hours again] just to get money. People struggle to get cash for a taxi fare if they are going somewhere where the bus does not go and you cannot get a mini statement to check your finances!”

Another Dalbeattie resident, Robert McGoldrick, said the closures have caused “real problems”.

He said: “Our shops, hotels, pubs are having problems with cash flow. The retired have nowhere to open an account for their pension to be paid into.”

Margaret Rae of Whitburn, West Lothian, said the closure of the bank there came after other closures in Armadale, Harthill, Fauldhouse and Blackburn

“The RBS branch in Whitburn was the biggest in the district,” she said. “There was never less than 10 people waiting to be seen, worst times there could be 20+ people queuing to be seen.”

The disappearance of branches in Longniddry and Prestonpans in East Lothian meant disruption for local woman Una Kerr, who said the replacement mobile branch stop near her was withdrawn in order to cover further closures, including North Berwick.

Ms Kerr added: “On using the RBS branch in North Berwick twice in the last few weeks I have had to queue, so how can anyone say it is underutilised?

“By way of a sweetener, a notice in the branch suggests customers should come along to a launch of a mobile bank in the town. Why bother when it is likely to be killed off to accommodate areas in the next round of branch closures.”

According to the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers (ASSC), tourists could even be driven away as the dearth of cash point in remote areas escalates.

The ASSC said: “Many tourists and visitors, especially those from urban areas, readily assume that card facilities will be available. However, this is not always the case, thereby limiting potential spend.”

Charity chiefs could also face the risk of failing to comply with “legal duties” under charities legislation over problems with banks such as the “complex and lengthy” processes for change of signatories on accounts.

Scots charity regulator OSCR also warns that opening account “difficulties” and issues with online banking availability and services could also pose problems.

The regulator said: “While there are other ways to conduct these transactions, having access to the local branch is viewed as important as a means of direct contact on issues that may arise.”

RBS said it was responding to changes in the way its customers banked, with branch usage falling by 44 per cent since 2011, while seven in ten customers were now using mobile or online banking.

It added: “We recognise that every customer will have different banking needs and we are committed to ensuring all our customers receive the best possible service.”