Banking regulations may have to be changed to make sure rural communities are not left without vital services, the SNP’s Westminster leader has said after RBS executives rejected calls from MPs to reconsider a wave of branch closures.
Members of the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee said answers given by two senior RBS figures summoned to explain the bank’s proposed closure of 62 branches in Scotland were “not good enough”.
Jane Howard, managing director of personal banking, and Les Matheson, chief executive of personal and business banking, insisted RBS is responding to changes in customer behaviour, including a rise in digital banking.
They admitted savings from the planned closures would amount to just £9.5 million, and the branches were not being scrapped to save money.
The executives also were unable to point to any consultation carried out by the bank before the announcement.
Committee chairman Pete Wishart told the executives that he had never experienced “such an overwhelming negative response to a single issue in my 17 years as a Member of Parliament”.
Mr Matheson told MPs: “We understand that customers are concerned about the change, that customers find change difficult, and we are committed to helping them through that process, and we have lots of ways of doing that.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster and former fund manager, said the government’s Access to Banking Code may have to be re-written to stop banks from pulling out of rural communties.
Following the session Mr Wishart said RBS’ response had been “unsatisfactory”, adding “the whole committee has been left disappointed and frustrated”.
“They seem to not be listening to the deep concerns from communities right across Scotland over their branch closure programme,” Mr Wishart said.
Scottish Conservative MP John Lamont said the evidence from RBS was “not good enough”.
Thirteen rural communities will be left with no bank at all once the closures go ahead.
One of them is the Hebridean island of Barra, where residents will have to take a ferry to get to their nearest bank branch.
MPs argue Post Offices and mobile banking trucks cannot provide the same cash-handlings services that small businesses and charities rely on.
The UK Government continues to hold a 70 per cent stake in RBS after bailing it out with £45 billion of public money during the financial crisis.