Royal Bank of Scotland branches in Kyle of Lochalsh, Mallaig and Castlebay are among those earmarked for closure, the company has confirmed.
Years of a permanent banking presence in several small towns looks set to come to an end, with the banking giants planning to close 62 Scottish branches throughout the country.
The bank said customers were increasingly banking online – but politicians and unions have vowed to fight the planned closures.
MP Ian Blackford raised the issue in parliament– pointing out that in Kyle the next nearest RBS branch is around an hour’s drive away in Portree.
MSP Kate Forbes expressed fears about elderly customers and accused the bank of abandoning communities. Unite the Union feared 1,000 jobs were at risk and described the RBS cuts as “savage”.
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said RBS has shown a “lack of understanding of island circumstances” with their plan to shut the branch on Barra – the next nearest branch being a ferry ride away in South Uist.
RBS plan to close the branch in Mallaig on 17th May; Castlebay on 14th June and Kyle on 28th June.
The bank said they have “seen significant changes in the way people bank in each of these areas”.
According to RBS, transactions in Castlebay have reduced by 43 per cent since 2012, and an average of 11 customers now visit the branch on a weekly basis. In Kyle there is an average of 51 customers a week, and transactions have fallen 35 per cent in the past four years . In Mallaig the figures suggest only around 11 customers are coming through the doors each week.
However, the bank said that in the Highlands over 40 per cent of their local customers were not yet banking digitally on a regular basis.
Mr Blackford said the closures could not be justified.
He said: “Information supplied to me by RBS is that Mallaig has 1,001 customers and has had 10,098 transactions in the last year. Kyle has 2,436 customers and has had 25,000 transactions. Beauly has 3,439 customers and had 29,000 transactions. These are not small numbers. Why do RBS wish to turn their backs to such customers?
“Although RBS rightly has operational independence, the state retains a majority stake in RBS. I raised the matter in parliament and will be pushing for a debate on the impact of rural bank closures. I am also writing to the chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, asking for the company to re-consider these plans. Together with my MSP colleague Kate Forbes, I will be standing up for my constituents demanding that these branches remain open. RBS must think again.”
RBS said more mobile bank services would be offered, and encouraged customers to bank in other ways.
They have pledged to employ new “community bankers” as well as “TechXperts” to offer training and support with digital skills in a drive to get more customers banking online.
Customers could also access RBS services at the Post Office and over the phone, say the bank.
An RBS spokesperson said: “We provide our customers with more ways to bank than ever before – customers can choose from a range of digital, face-to-face and local options. Since 2012 the number of customers using our branches in Scotland has fallen by 44 per cent. Only 1 per cent of our customers in Scotland now use a branch regularly while the number of regular mobile users has increased by 39 per cent since 2015.”
Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said: “RBS is just the latest bank to abandon the Highlands and forget the locally communities who depend on their services. These banks are deserting the Highlands.”
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said of the 62 RBS closures, 13 are in the Highlands and Islands where access to online banking is limited and the distance to an alternative bank is prohibitive.
She added: “Banks always talk about their social responsibility, well in most of these cases the closures seem more about costs and savings than any form of responsibility to the community.”
Alasdair Allan feared the impact of the RBS closure in Castlebay.
He said: “It shows the depth of RBS’s lack of understanding of island circumstances that their email announcing the branch closure stated there are still ‘a number of free to use cash machines in your area’, before listing cash machines some 27 miles away in South Uist, which people in Barra would have to take a ferry to use.
“RBS is 73 per cent owned by the UK taxpayer, yet they seem to have taken no account of the public or common good in reaching this decision. I have urged the Bank to take stock of the devastating impact this could have and commit to keeping the branch open.”