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Scottish Rural Action- On RBS Planned Closures

Scottish Rural Action- On RBS Planned Closures

As part of our new blog series, SACS has asked partner organisations to contribute articles about current issues. Scottish Rural Action organises the Scottish Rural Parliament and campaigns from grass-roots level for rural communities. SACS is a member of SRA, and you can find out how to join at the end of this blog post. Thanks to Emma and Fiona at SRA for contributing.

Scottish Rural Action – Blog on our campaign on the planned closures of 62 Royal Bank of Scotland branches.

How it all began...

In December of 2017 Scottish Rural Action became aware of the planned closures of 62 Royal Bank of Scotland branches. The majority of these branches (45) were in rural areas and in thirteen cases, the last bank in the town. The closures had been flagged up to us by several SRA members and they had also created a lot of media coverage. SRA seeks to ensure that decision-makers understand the needs and strengths of rural communities in Scotland, and that policy does not disadvantage rural communities. We are a grassroots-led, non-profit organisation so we knew that there was a role for us to play in campaigning for a review of the closures. Our ultimate aim was for RBS to keep at least some of the branches open, preferably those where the RBS branch was the last bank in town, such as the Castlebay branch on the island of Barra.

The impact on rural communities

RBS justified the closures due to dwindling numbers of customers using the local branches and a reduced number of year-on-year transactions. The decision showed a total disregard of the importance of a local branch to many people living rurally.

The local bank is a lifeline for those who are not digitally connected or skilled, businesses that rely on depositing cash, and those with mobility issues, who would find attending a mobile banking vehicle on a fixed timetable in the middle of winter an impossibility. In addition, many rural branches serve a much wider community. For example, closing the branch in Mallaig would affect those customers that travel from the Isle of Eigg or the Knoydart Peninsula, both require ferry journeys and are also home to many small business owners.

In some places, towns would also lose the adjoining branch ATM. Having a reduced cash withdrawal option is an inconvenience to local residents and will have a severe impact on tourism trade – quite simply if cash is not available then people cannot spend it!

‘Factsheets’ provided by the bank on each of the branches highlighted banking alternatives and offered very little in the way of explaining how a local mobile banking branch might operate (a link to a timetable that did not exist). There was a also a strong feeling of disappointment and frustration that the Royal Bank of Scotland would make this move as it is still owned by the British taxpayer which has a 72% share. We requested copies of the ‘Impact Assessments’ carried out by RBS on each of the proposed closures but were informed that these were confidential.

SRA has a strong track record of campaigning on issues that affect rural areas, notably transport, digital connectivity and most recently our campaign ‘Be Kind December’ that aimed to highlight the impact of isolation and loneliness on people living in rural and remote areas. It would be pertinent to add that SRA is one of many campaigning voices [including SACS – ed.] on the issue of RBS closures, and that we could not achieve our campaign aims without the help of many individuals and organisations across Scotland, too numerous to mention but greatly appreciated.

An invite from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee

It was two weeks before Christmas and in the height of the ‘Be Kind December’ campaign that SRA was asked by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to represent the voice of rural communities at risk of losing their local branch. For the uninitiated, the Scottish Affairs Select Committee is a Westminster committee tasked with examining the expenditure, policy and administration of the Scotland Office. It was a great honour to be approached by the committee and campaign planning preparations began immediately as the hearing had been set for the 17th of January. With less than ten days until the Christmas break it was vital that we had a plan to gather the information we needed and provide a well-evidenced argument for the committee hearing.

We created a survey that aimed to identify if local communities had been consulted on the planned closures, the impact closures would have on individuals and communities and gauge how suitable proposed baking alternatives were (such as internet banking, local Post Offices and timetabled mobile banking branches). We circulated the survey through our own channels and we were overwhelmed by the support we received from other campaigning organisations, both local and national, individuals and even the media in making sure that the survey was reaching the people that it should. The power of social media via Twitter and Facebook helped to get the word out quickly, and we also offered paper copies.

And the survey says...

The survey received over 1,100 responses by early January 2018. The survey results clearly showed that very little or no consultation had taken place and that 95% of respondents felt that the closure should not go ahead:

I think this is absolutely disgraceful that this can be allowed to happen without any consultation. I live in a small rural village and the bank is a lifeline to the community.

It’s an idea made by an organisation that has lost its values and reason for being in business

For a full breakdown of the survey and evidence provided to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee https://www.sra.scot/rbs-closures-sra-present-evidence-to-the-scottish-affairs-committee/

We provided the Scottish Affairs Committee with a full report on our findings and other sources of evidence to support our case, of which this is the executive summary:

§ Rural communities are more likely to be affected by the branch closures and more likely to be losing their last bank than urban communities affected by the closures

§ Rural communities feel let down by RBS over the branch closures and reported a total lack of consultation with them and their community representatives ahead of the decision making; 95% of respondents who were to be affected by the closures felt they should not go ahead

§ Alternative banking options suggested by RBS – online banking, Post Office banking, and mobile bank vans – were felt by the large majority of people to be unsuitable for meeting their needs

§ The branch closures will have the severest impacts on the most vulnerable and isolated communities, businesses and individuals, who are less able to arrange access to alternative banking options, are more reliant upon cash and require a fuller range of banking services and advice

§ It is our opinion that the branch closures demonstrate a lack of care and compassion from RBS about rural communities and vulnerable people, who will be disproportionately impacted by the decision, and the process by which these decisions were made was unethical

§ We call on RBS to release each of the impact assessments conducted; the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Lending Standards Board to conduct a full review on the conduct of RBS; on the UK Government to halt these closures until that review has been completed; and on the UK Government to consider a form of Universal Service Obligation for banking, whereby banks cannot close the last bank or ATM in town

17th January 2018 – The Scottish Affairs Select Committee meets at Westminster

SRA were joined by representatives from the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and Unite Scotland. SRA presented the key findings from our research and answered questions from the panel of MP’s and Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP.

The evidence presented by the panel was overwhelming that RBS had not consulted on branch closures and had failed to consider the impact on rural communities. The response from RBS officials was that they had made the decisions based on ‘customer behaviour’ over the past few years and that their decisions were justified. Questioned by Pete Wishart MP if the bank would reconsider the closures, RBS officials stated they would always speak with MPs, but they declined to answer if the decision would be reconsidered.

For a full list of the evidence provided and a link to the video of the debate http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/scottish-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/rbs-branch-closures-17-19/

Campaign Progress

In early February RBS agreed to review the closure of ten branches throughout Scotland and offered an enhanced package of support for rural communities, including reviewing the number of ATMs in affected areas. This was a welcome announcement from RBS, and we took a moment to celebrate! However, the reviewed branches are subject to an assessment in a year’s time to identify customer numbers and transactions and may still be closed at that time; 52 branches are still due for closure in June 2018.

SRA continue to be active on this issue and are considering other avenues of campaigning to ensure that the voice of rural communities is heard. We have a meeting scheduled with RBS executives in early May to discuss our ongoing concerns.

If you are interested in joining Scottish Rural Action then please log on to www.sra.scot It is free to become a member and you will receive our newsletter, opportunity for forum discussions, conference invites and access to the Scottish Rural Parliament in November 2018. We also have opportunities for volunteering (more information on our website). Follow us on Twitter @ScotRuralAction and Facebook Scottish Rural Action.

Posted by: / 04 May 2018 at 15:50 / Comment

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