BANKING access and the impacts of branch closures on rural Highland communities are to be studied through a major new survey – amid growing pressure on banks to scrap plans that critics warn will harm local economies.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) aims to gather feedback from a broad range of households, businesses and community groups in areas expected to be affected by local bank branch closures.
The online survey is being used to gather feedback from 14 Highland communities, including Nairn, Beauly, Kyle of Lochalsh, Tain and Grantown on Spey – where threatened closures have sparked anger among residents.
In addition to the online survey, a wider study will learn from other areas that have already experienced bank closures in Scotland and the UK, understand what the impact of these has been, and identify alternative options for local banking services.
Announcing the survey HIE stressed the importance of equal access to services, adding that it recognises the vulnerabilities of rural communities and that bank closures could create extra challenges as villages and towns seek to boost their economic output.
Carroll Buxton, HIE’s director of regional development, said: “Rural communities around the Highlands and Islands are generally ambitious about their plans for growth, both in their local economy and their population. The removal of some local bank branches can present additional challenges in realising these ambitions.
“Factors such as access to business finance, and the ability to deposit and withdraw cash are fundamental to many local clubs and societies as well as businesses and social enterprises.
“It is important for us to fully understand, from those directly affected, how important rural banking services are, and to look at how else these services might be provided, particularly in the context of rural branch closures.
The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “We know how important local banking services are to individuals, businesses, and other groups in rural areas and support all efforts to ensure that essential banking services are preserved.
“We hope that the banking sector will take note of the survey and its findings, and listen to the views of local communities when developing the future plans for their rural services.
“We are continuing to engage with the banks to ensure that everything possible is being done for customers, local communities and staff.”
The survey can be accessed at www.hie.co.uk/access-to-banking-services-research and is open until Friday, April 13.