A Scottish Parliament debate last week on bank branch closures in Scotland was “probably the most subscribed members’ business debate”.
It was prompted by the recent announcement that Royal Bank of Scotland was looking at closing a third of its branches in Scotland - 62 branches altogether, six of them in the Borders.
During the debate, Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, Rachael Hamilton, said: “News that RBS has decided to shut 62 branches is devastating.
“The Scottish Borders will see significant detrimental impact. It is disappointing that those in rural areas have seemingly been forgotten in the decision.
“Banks have a moral obligation to ensure continued access to services, especially for older or vulnerable residents. Clearly, RBS is not living up to that obligation.
“The Borders is up in arms. Only three years ago, the bank shut its branches in Chirnside, Greenlaw and Newtown St Boswells. Closures forecast for Selkirk, Duns, Eyemouth, Hawick, Jedburgh and Melrose will cause further disruption and woe.
“Those who cannot, or would prefer not to, bank digitally now have to find another way to get to the bank - once on their doorstep, now miles away. In the Borders, where broadband is slow, digital banking is not as easy as some would suggest, and not everyone can drive.
The Scottish Government’s Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, who lives in eastern Berwickshire, said they were ready to work with UK ministers, the bank and other stakeholders “to support and reassure customers in light of the planned closures”.
Mr Wheelhouse continued: “My first preference - the Government’s first preference - is for the branches to stay open.
“Concerns have been raised about the impact of branch closures on our communities. These closures will be a body blow to many communities across Scotland, leaving many areas with significantly reduced branch coverage and availability of banking services.
“We are engaging with RBS; we are not just accepting that the bank will pull out and leave nothing behind. We are trying to liaise with the bank about what it can provide as a legacy if branches are to close - and I repeat that I would rather that they did not close.
“We are trying to make the point to RBS that there is a reputational issue. Its reputation is clearly suffering in the court of public opinion and in the court of this chamber’s opinion. I am sure that the strength of feeling that we have heard in this debate is not lost on it.
“The UK Government has made it clear that, despite its having a majority stake in RBS, it will unfortunately not exercise its influence at this time. It might need to be pressurised to do more on that front, but I recognise the support of the Conservative members in the chamber for taking action on this. I appreciate that RBS operates on a commercial basis, and that it must do so, but we believe that there is a role for regulation.
“We believe that the UK Government should work to ensure that robust alternative options are in place before it allows closures to take place. We are prepared to play our part in that; we do not expect it to fall entirely to others.”