Westminster ‘unaware’ of impact of rural bank losses

Campaigner Michael Baird at the recently closed Bank of Scotland branch in Bonar Bridge. Picture: contributed
Campaigner Michael Baird at the recently closed Bank of Scotland branch in Bonar Bridge. Picture: contributed
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A Highland MP says he has proof Westminster is not scrutinising the impact of bank closures on communities and businesses in remote areas.

Jamie Stone, Scottish Lib Dem MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross – the most northerly mainland British constituencies and one of the largest – asked the Chancellor Philip Hammond if he was aware of the repercussions of closures for people and businesses in such areas. Stone is now calling on all banks to set up a separate company in which they are all stakeholders, with a branch and ATM in each rural community.

Last week’s closure of the last bank on the Black Isle, the Bank of Scotland’s branch in Fortrose, has left a massive area of Highland Scotland without a bank for the first time in 200 years.

The closure joins a raft of others by the banking sector across Scotland, including Bank of Scotland closures this month at Beauly, Bonar Bridge, Dornoch, Helmsdale and Lairg. Meanwhile the Royal Bank of Scotland has closed branches in Lybster, Invergordon, and Lochinver, over the past two years.

The Clydesdale Bank has closed its branch in Thurso.

Campaigner Michael Baird from Bonar Bridge said people were being forced to travel long distances just to get cash.

Bank chiefs say changes are due to the growing number of customers banking online.

Stone received a reply to his written parliamentary question from Stephen Barclay, Conservative MP, and Economic Secretary to the Treasury, stating: “The government has made no assessment of the effect of closure of ATMs on rural economies and communities, but is monitoring developments within the UK’s ATM network – LINK – as is the Payment Systems Regulator.”

Stone said: “The availability of banking facilities should not be dependent on where you live. I’m asking the Scottish and UK governments – ‘are you really willing to see your citizens disadvantaged in this way?’”

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convenor of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Jamie Stone MP is absolutely right to ask the government if they’re monitoring the availability of banking services across Scotland.

“Banks sharing facilities would be one way to mitigate the impact of local closures, alongside a smart ATM network and mobile banking.”

A spokesperson for UK Finance representing the UK finance and banking industry, said it recognised some customers were not happy with online banking.

“This is why all the major banks have done deals to help customers and businesses do basic banking at over 11,000 Post Office branches. Banks are also investing in mobile bank branches to reach more rural communities, and the industry’s Access to Banking Standard will support business and communities.”