Scottish Affairs Committee criticises RBS bank closures

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RBS in Duns
Image caption,
RBS is closing at least 52 of its branches in Scotland

RBS has failed to appreciate the impact of its decision to close dozens of branches in Scotland, a report by MPs has found.

The Scottish Affairs Committee described the move as a "devastating blow" for communities affected.

It urged the bank, which is majority-owned by the taxpayer, to halt plans to axe up to 62 branches.

RBS said the closures were in response to the increasing numbers of customers using mobile and online banking.

However, the plans have attracted fierce criticism from local communities, business groups and politicians.

In December, RBS announced it would shut a total of 62 branches north of the border.

Ten of them were later given a stay of execution until at least the end of this year, pending a review.

The committee report said the closures would remove "vital services relied upon by businesses and disproportionately affect vulnerable customers".

It stated: "We are not convinced that RBS fully appreciate the damage these closures will do to the communities and businesses that rely on these branches."

In its report, the committee argued that impact assessments carried out by the bank did not provide enough information on the situation with individual branches.

It said: "For example, whether customers have access to a suitably reliable broadband connection to allow them to use online banking, the practicality of travelling to the next nearest branch or the effective availability of alternative services such as mobile branches and community bankers.

"Without this information we do not see how these documents can be said to have properly assessed the impact of the closures on customers, businesses and communities."

Image caption,
RBS chief executive Ross McEwan has said the way bank customers use its services was changing

Committee chairman Pete Wishart said: "The loss of a permanent bank, and the services it provides, cannot be replicated by the occasional visit of a mobile bank or community banker.

"In rural areas, the local branch is an essential, whose withdrawal is compounded by poor access to broadband and journey time to the next available facility.

"RBS did not consult adequately and even at this last stage should reverse their decision to close these branches."

RBS said it welcomed the publication of the report.

'Not an easy decision'

In a statement, it said: "We would like to reassure our customers and the committee that we do understand closing a branch can be difficult for some customers and colleagues who work in these branches. It's not an easy decision.

"We have listened to customers, colleagues, communities and elected representatives, and welcome the committee's recognition that we have engaged and responded."

The bank said it was responding to changes in the way its customers banked, with branch usage falling by 44% since 2011, while seven in 10 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."

Image source, Reuters

The Scottish Affairs Committee also urged the UK government to use any influence as the majority shareholder to pressure RBS to reconsider its closure programme

Mr Wishart added: "The UK government has an obligation to represent the interests of the citizens and communities in Scotland that will be harmed by this swathe of bank closures.

"They own 70% of the shares in this company and should use any influence they have to try and have this decision reversed."

An HM Treasury spokesman 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."