Community representatives and politicians reacted angrily this week to the news that RBS is to close down 30 branches across Scotland, including Newton Stewart.
Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm said: “This is bad news for Newton Stewart. Not only are jobs being lost but local businesses and residents will also be adversely affected. Not all customers are happy to use telephone or internet banking but it seems that banks are prepared to sacrifice traditional face to face business in order to secure savings. Declining footfall is a problem but the provision of rural banking services requires a more enlightened approach than simply closing local branches. This closure now means that the nearest RBS branch will be in Stranraer. How many customers will transfer their business is a matter of conjecture, particularly in view of the fact that there are still two other banks operating in Newton Stewart.”
Galloway MP Richard Arkless commented: “I am extremely disappointed to hear that Newton Stewart will lose their RBS branch. The announcement will mean job losses for the town and leave a major building on the High Street empty.
“Banks bring people into towns and they help keep high streets alive by providing a commercial centre. The closure of any bank has a huge impact on entire communities reducing footfall and damaging the trade of surrounding businesses – in rural communities such as ours the impact is particularly acute.
“Bank closures are happening so frequently now and in each case the bank attributes the closure to an increase in online banking but it’s not always easy for people to make the transition to digital banking. For many people in Dumfries and Galloway, they simply can’t get online to access this service and members of our older generation often do not have the internet skills necessary to use the online services.
“I want to see high street banks working with mobile providers to fill in some internet not-spots an have held several meetings with key banking decision makers in Westminster to explore this idea.
“I will be contacting RBS to find out how they will be accommodating the needs of their more vulnerable, elderly customers many of whom will have banked the same way, at the same branch all their lives. It is essential that RBS do all that they can to support the customers who have supported them for so many years.
“I’ve had meetings with other banks recently to encourage them to develop more innovative and tangible ways of assisting rural communities they leave. They need to understand that some people can’t get online and can’t easily get into town. They can’t leave people in rural areas to bank online when rural areas struggle to get online. They should be investing in better mobile signals, or indeed mobile banks.
“I’ll be meeting with RBS to suggest they work with other Banks like the Clydesdale to deliver legacy programs which can lessen the impact of these closures in a meaningful way. I’ll also remind them they are public owned and it is the public they are letting down here.”
South of Scotland MSP, Colin Smyth is to table a motion in the Scottish Parliament condemning the bank’s decision.
Mr Smyth raged: “It is deeply disappointing that we are witnessing yet more bank closures and frankly it will only be a matter of time before having a branch in your high street outside the large towns and cities will be a thing of the past.
Some of these customers have been with the bank their whole live yet now find themselves completely abandoned by a bank they loyally supported, through the good times and bad.
“At a time where our high streets are under a great deal of pressure, this is the last thing we need from one of the country’s largest businesses. We should be encouraging businesses to move into our town centres, but that becomes more and more difficult when so many are simply walking away. What is particularly galling is the fact that RBS is partly owned by the Government who are therefore supporting these closures by failing to intervene.
I will be writing to RBS’s chief executive to ask him to reconsider the move and have submitted a motion to parliament calling on MSP from across party divides to join together and call on RBS to rethink this decision.”
The Newton Stewart branch is set to close on October 9 due to what a spokesperson for the bank described as “dramatic shift” in the way that customers use the bank – with more and more people choosing to bank online or through apps on mobile devices.
RBS have said that between 2010 and 2015, mobile and online transactions increased by over 400 per cent and mobile transactions alone have increased by 1,350 per cent. Since 2011 RBS say they have seen the number of transactions in the Newton Stewart branch decline by 20 per cent.
As well as Newton Stewart, Girvan, Cumnock, Mauchline, Troon and Prestwick are all facing closure.