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'Absurd' banking alternatives land Barclays in hot water with Highland customers and politicians

By Philip Murray

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Barclays Bank, Union Street, Inverness. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Barclays Bank, Union Street, Inverness. Picture: James Mackenzie.

'Out of touch' bank chiefs have been slammed after letters announcing the closure of Barclays' Inverness site said people with disabilities could instead access branches more than 150 miles away.

Barclays customers were left disappointed earlier this week after the bank announced the closure of its branch in the Highland capital's Union Street.

The major bank only has a handful of Scottish branches – all of which are located in major cities – and the closure of the Inverness site in May will mean Highland customers' next nearest branches will be in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

The loss of the branch was already a bitter blow for customers – and comes amid a wider swathe of bank closures that have left Highland communities increasingly cut off from in-person banking options.

But infuriated customers were left dumbstruck after letters from the bank began dropping on their doormat confirming Barclays' closure plan and outlining 'alternatives'.

For the letter didn't just suggest local Post Office sites, but also flagged up its branches in Aberdeen and Edinburgh – 104 and 156 miles away respectively.

Angry customers have accused the bank of being completely "tone deaf" for seriously suggesting such outlandish alternatives to the bank in Inverness.

And Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry agrees. He has branded the imminent loss of the branch "a kick in the teeth for the public" and was stunned by the suggestion that Aberdeen or Edinburgh might work as alternatives.

Speaking to the Courier, he vowed to write to banking chiefs urging a rethink over the closure plan.

MP Drew Hendry.
MP Drew Hendry.

He said: "It's an all-too-common short-term view from banks and a kick in the teeth for the public, who supported the banking sector when they needed them during the financial crisis.

One customer, who did not wish to be named, said: "I'd already heard about the branch closure on the news, so the arrival of the letter from Barclays was not a big surprise. But my jaw dropped when I opened it and read the tone deaf contents inside.

"They're closing the branch but have the cheek to then sprinkle phrases like "Barclays in the community" throughout the letter, when what they're doing is the exact opposite of 'community-spirited'".

"And I can only imagine what customers with disabilities must have felt after reading the letter. It listed alternative Barclays branches for physical banking at Union Street in Aberdeen and Princes Street in Edinburgh and then sang the praises of how 'these branches have full access for customers with disabilities'!

"I'm sure that'll come as a real comfort to Highland customers with disabilities – that these alternatives are 'fully accessible', you just have to do a six-and-a-half hour round trip to Edinburgh to access them!"

"I mean, what planet are the bank's bosses living on to suggest those as legitimate alternatives? It's completely absurd!"

Responding, Barclays has announced plans to open a "cashless banking site" somewhere in the city to act as a replacement for the branch, where people will still be able to access banking support and in-person services and eliminating the need to travel further afield.

A spokesperson said: “As visits to branches continue to fall, with the majority of people preferring to bank online, we need to adapt to provide the best service for all our customers. This is reflected at Inverness, where we are delivering new ways to support our customers and the community with options for those who need in-person services.

“In Inverness we plan to open a Barclays Local – a cashless banking site where customers can meet a colleague face-to-face for banking support, as they would in a branch and without the need to travel.

"We are currently working with the local community to identify a suitable location and will announce details once confirmed.”

Mr Hendry confirmed that Barclays had been in touch following his request to talk to banking bosses, and had floated the possibility of a Barclays Local.

He said: “I have been in contact with Barclays who inform me they hope to introduce a Barclays Local in the community, I will be meeting with them soon to better understand what this actually means for impacted locals in Inverness and the surrounding area.”

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