Royal Bank Of Scotland (RBS) has announced the closure of 259 branches and the axing of 680 jobs, blaming the growth of online banking for the move.
The number of closures have so concerned Scottish business minister Paul Wheelhouse that he has urged the UK government to take steps to ensure that communities have access to day-to-day banking services.
The closures involve 62 RBS branches and the rest are NatWest. But Mr Wheelhouse is concerned that 62 of the closures are in Scotland and described the plan as ‘a body blow to our high streets.’
In a letter to Economic Secretary of the Treasury, Stephen Barclay, he said: “I am deeply concerned at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s announcement that they are to make further deep and damaging cuts to their branch network in Scotland.
“I am sure that you will also have concern at the rate of branch closures at RBS, and NatWest. Scotland is proud of its banking heritage and has done much to build the industry globally and RBS has grown due to its ability to rely upon a loyal customer base here, through good times and bad.”
The closures affect one in three of Scottish branches and involve 158 job losses.
Mr Wheelhouse is concerned that many communities will be left without ready access to day-to-day banking services as the cuts will affect the most remote rural communities and market towns.
He said: “I call on the UK government to establish and enforce a guaranteed minimum level of service provision for essential banking services, recognising the importance of continued access to banking for communities across Scotland, and across the UK.
“The government, as the bank’s majority shareholder, in our view, should use its influence through not agreeing to any closures in locations where no face-to-face alternatives are in place, and should require the Royal Bank of Scotland to ensure that practical and sustainable alternative banking services are put in place before any closures are signed off.”
Online or mobile
An RBS spokesperson said: “More and more of our customers are choosing to do their everyday banking online or on mobile.
“Since 2014 the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40% and mobile transactions have increased by 73% over the same period. Over 5 million customers now use our mobile banking app and one in five only bank with us digitally.”
The bank said 1,000 branch staff have been told their jobs are at risk, but expects many will be redeployed leaving 680 redundancies
“We realise this is difficult news for our colleagues and we are doing everything we can to support those affected.”
Unite union national officer, Rob MacGregor, said: “This announcement will forever change the face of banking in this country resulting in over a thousand staff losing their jobs and hundreds of High Streets without any banking facilities.
“The closure of another 259 branches is savage. Why is the government signing off this alarming branch closure programme?”
RBS announced the closure of 158 branches with the loss of 500 jobs in March.
The bank, which is still 71% owned by the British taxpayer, said it would try to ensure that compulsory redundancies were ‘kept to an absolute minimum.’
It will be left with 744 branches once the closure programme is complete.
A Treasury spokeswoman said: “The decision to open and close branches is a commercial decision taken by the management team of each bank.
“The government does not intervene in these decisions. But we understand the impact that closures can have on communities and people’s jobs.
“Banks must now give customers as much notice as possible when a branch is closing, and ensure they are made aware of the options they have locally to continue to access banking services.”
RBS/Natwest were not the only banks to announce a string of branch closures.
Lloyds Banking Group has just announced the closure of 49 branches, with the loss of nearly 100 jobs, and Yorkshire Building Society have said they are going to close 13 branches as it carries out a wider restructuring campaign which could result in 200 more jobs.