Today (Wednesday 30 May) is the RBS AGM in Edinburgh. We met with Executives from the bank last week to raise concerns we have about the planned branch closures.
Below we have set out what RBS stated and our concerns with their responses. We know that the closures of banks in rural Scotland is likely to be raised at their AGM, we welcome any further dialogue to resolve these concerns.
RBS reaffirmed that there would be no further changes to branches until 2020.
- This is only 1 and a half years away – arguably the bank could have further cuts currently being planned due to be announced in 2020. We are concerned that this would not give adequate time for meaningful community consultation – we can’t guarantee that they have learnt lessons from this round of cuts.
When pushed on community consultation ahead of branch closures, RBS stated that their branch staff are embedded in the communities they serve, and they constantly survey customers after in-branch experiences.
- Staff that are embedded in these communities are potentially losing their job – objectivity could be questionable.
- Surveying customers on in-branch experience does not equate to consulting a community on the impacts of a branch closure. RBS admit that they did not undertake this type of community consultation ahead of this round of closures – we feel they are unlikely to do so without pressure.
- RBS said they would be open to suggestions of how to engage meaningfully with rural customers – whilst we are willing to encourage and perhaps support this, the duty starts and ends with RBS[
Once closed, RBS are willing to investigate handing over branch buildings to community groups.
- How they would identify suitable community groups / projects that would be stewards of these properties.
- RBS may wish to seek options that would bring jobs to a community, whilst we recognise the value in this, we have concerns that this may not be the best qualifying criteria for all communities. Perhaps the decision-making power should be gifted to the local community and made democratically by residents. This would empower the community and ensure its best interests were served.
- Communities must be made aware of the options open to them – it shouldn’t be about communities having to approach RBS – it should be a clear offer from the bank to each individual community.
- RBS confirmed that they would let SRA know which of the 62 proposed branches for closure are owned by them and would be available to communities and in what circumstances. We look forward to being able to share this news÷.
RBS told us that their mobile banking vans will be responsive to local needs, giving an example of stopping at the door of people with mobility issues and serving customers at car windows.
- RBS has already invested in a new fleet of vans that are not wheelchair accessible to replace closed branches. There are no current plans to make the vans wheelchair accessible.
- Requesting stops for vans is likely to become increasingly time and resource consuming for RBS, given Scotland’s aging population. It is easy to foresee this service being quickly oversubscribed and perhaps impacting on already short stops to rural communities elsewhere.
- There are no guarantees that this will continue in the long-term – i.e. once attention to the suitability of mobile banking vans has died down.
- We are not questioning the willingness or flexibility of the van staff to provide a good service, but have concerns about a developing policy that would exclude people with mobility issues.
RBS stated that the transition to a cashless society will benefit rural communities and small business owners based in rurally.
- Evidence of this is conflicting. Whilst we appreciate this is the direction of travel, it is not a reflection of where we currently are, and currently there are barriers which disproportionately impact on rural communities and businesses when compared to urban. For example, we know that digital connectivity significantly impacts on the transition away from cash.
- Rural populations have a higher proportion of older people – this is the population who are most likely find it difficult to transition to a cashless society. When coupled with other impacts of living rurally it places an unnecessary burden on rural communities.
- We questioned RBS on their willingness to investigate a transition to a cashless society and the impacts and specific needs of rural communities in Scotland.They talked about similar pilots in rural North Wales and elsewhere in Europe that we could learn from. We would be interested in finding our more about these other pilots, the communities experiences of them and if, in the right circumstances there would be a community in Scotland that would be willing to trial such a scheme with support from RBS.