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Mobile bank branch axe plans need urgent rethink, pleads Highland MSP

By Philip Murray

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Bank of Scotland mobile banking in Beauly Square..Picture: Gary Anthony. Image No..
Bank of Scotland mobile banking in Beauly Square..Picture: Gary Anthony. Image No..

An urgent rethink is needed over plans to axe mobile bank branches in the Highlands.

That's the view of Highland MSP Rhoda Grant after she held a debate in the Scottish Parliament over the loss of banking services in rural Scotland.

The far north has been particularly badly affected in recent years, with countless branches shuttered and communities increasingly reliant on a single outlet, Post Office, or mobile banks to physically access their money.

And the pressure on rural banks has not let up, with the Bank of Scotland sparking uproar late last year when it confirmed it was axing some of its mobile banks – despite the vehicles and service being previously billed as a way to keep banking in communities when physical branches closed.

Ms Grant, who represents Labour, said that Scotland has seen a 60 per cent decline in banking branches since 2015 – with many areas in the Highlands and Islands suffering even greater losses. She said Caithness and Sutherland had reported a 72 per cent decline, while the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency had posted a 65 per cent fall.

And she has warned that the axing of mobile branches in communities like Fortrose and Beauly – and 48 other locations in Scotland – will "disproportionately affect the elderly, disabled and digitally excluded".

She said: “I urge Bank of Scotland to rethink their decision and to re-evaluate how they are serving their customers”.

Speaking after the debate, she added: "I thank MSPs for contributing to this important debate and the consensus was not only moving but I hope its influential to the banks in rethinking this reckless abandonment of communities.

“Times are changing and the way we access our banking is changing however, its vital that protections are in place to ensure that people can always access cash and access services in person."

During the debate she stressed that the alternatives offered by banks are not sustainable nor accessible. Online banking is not viable for some customers due to broadband connectivity or digital literacy and Post Offices do provide services but they are not available to all and are liable to closure.

She then went onto state that the mobile banks are not convenient but that those residents that use them are the very people who cannot travel great distances to access banking services. Thus, this proposed axe of service abandons them with little to no alternative.

Mrs Grant finished by stating these banks were bailed out by the public purse in the 2008 financial crash and she urged Bank of Scotland the Lloyds Banking Group to reconsider their plan and to rethink their strategies to better serve their customers – especially those in rural areas.

Every party that contributed to the debate (Scottish Labour, SNP, Conservative and Liberal Democrats) agreed with Mrs Grant and there was consensus that the Bank of Scotland is wrong to remove services from rural high streets.

She added that Neil Gray, the cabinet secretary for wellbeing economy, fair work and energy, outlined that this was an important motion and he congratulated all members for their valuable contributions. He stressed that banks have a social responsibility to communities and shared suspicions as to what assessments have been done on the impacts these closures will have. He concluded that he was going to host a cross-party roundtable on this issue with the Scottish Financial Enterprise, Lloyds Banking Group and the Financial Conduct Authority to attend to discuss this further and that other MSPs will be invited to attend.

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