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Unite criticises RBS chiefs as "morally bankrupt"

Unite criticises RBS chiefs as "morally bankrupt"

04 December 2017

Unite Scotland says the Royal Bank of Scotland is the bank that breaks its promises. Proposals to close 1 in 3 branches are ‘morally bankrupt.’

In a letter to the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Unite calls on the Scottish Government to force RBS to change course.

Unite’s deputy Scottish Secretary Mary Alexander, noted in her letter: “Some years ago - during a previous closure programme - the directors of RBS made a pledge that they would never close one of their branches when it was “the last bank in town”. They have long ago reneged on that promise..They say they are the Royal Bank FOR Scotland. Tell that to the folk in Bannockburn, Beauly, Biggar, Carnwath, Castlebay,Corrie, Douglas Lanarkshire, Gretna, Inveraray, Kilwinning, Melrose,Stepps,Tongue.

She told the Minister further: “The plans are not actually about inefficient, under-used services for the most part. They are about money, and making more of it for RBS shareholders.  We actually believe RBS is morally bankrupt.”

Unite Scotland also believes that RBS have failed in their duty to consult local communities affected by potential closures. The Minster’s letter notes: “The directors and executives of RBS are obligated to consult with local communities about local branch closures. Whether this has actually been done across Scotland, seems at this stage to be at least open to serious question. The public outrage which is developing in local communities as the closure programme comes to light seems to attest to that.”

Letter from Mary Alexander, Deputy Scottish Secretary of Unite:

Paul Wheelhouse MSP
Minister for Business Innovation and Energy
The Scottish Government,
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

1 December 2017

Dear Mr Wheelhouse 

Re: RBS branch closures announced 1 December 2017

I am writing to you on behalf of Unite Scotland. We have been in negotiation with RBS / NatWest regarding their proposed branch closures. These meetings have embraced the branch closures across the UK. Our Scottish Regional Officer, Lyn Turner, has specifically been involved with the Scottish element of the closures. 

RBS presented its Business Plan to Unite officers on 1 November and we had our first consultation directly with the company on 8th November. Unite’s view of this so-called consultation is that the bank officers sought to inform us simply about the closures about which they were not prepared to consider any negotiation.

We note that your were quoted in BBC reports on Friday the 1st of December as saying that the closures were “seriously concerning” and would leave “large areas of Scotland with limited coverage”.  We are too extremely concerned about the RBS proposals and the serious effects that they will have for communities across Scotland, RBS customers and staff. In this regard Unite Scotland is seeking a meeting with you, at your earliest convenience, to consider what the Scottish government is going to do to  convince RBS to change course to avert the social catastrophe that is likely to follow the implementation of these current plans.

In this context it may be useful to share some of our observations on the proposals being promoted. We have included the list of the 62 closures in the Appendix enclosed with this letter which gives full details. However to give you an idea of the scope of the closures Unite has produced a shorter area summary. This includes examples of some of the closures area by area thus:  

  • The Highlands at Tongue, Tain, Wick, Aviemore, Mallaig and Pitlochry;
  • The Southern Highlands at Bannockburn, Bridge of Allan, Dunblane, Kinross
  • The North East at Banff, Dyce, Huntly, Nairn and Montrose;
  • The East Coast at Dunbar, Duns, Eyemouth and North Berwick;
  • The Central Belt at Airdrie, Bellshill, Larkhall, Douglas, Lesmahagow and Biggar;
  • The West Coast at Campbeltown, Rothesay, Kilbirnie, and Kilwinning;
  • The Borders at Hawick, Jedburgh, Melrose and Selkirk;
  • The towns and cities at Aberdeen Bridge of Don, Inverness Queensgate, Dundee Stobswell, Perth South Street, and Glasgow Business Centre; 

In this context Biggar is fairly typical of the difficulties that will ensue from closure. Bigger is a prosperous market town in south Lanarkshire. The RBS branch is the ‘last bank in town’. It’s closure breaks promises given by RBS some time ago that it would not undertake closures in such circumstances. The nearest alternative branch is in Carnwath 7.5 miles away. However it too is earmarked for closure, leaving the Lanark RBS as the nearest - 12 miles from Biggar.

RBS have suggested that digital banking is the answer to most people’s banking needs. What happens in places like Biggar, the Borders or indeed the Highlands which are all notorious for poor wi-fi reception? What happens if you are elderly or infirm and cannot make the journey or indeed if you are poor don’t own a car and are dependent on a bank visit to cash welfare benefits? Those issues concerning access to cash withdrawal are matched by small business problems with deposits. What do the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker do with their takings at the end of the business week - put them under the bed until the RBS mobile van arrives whenever that is? ATMs iPads and smart phones do not take cash deposits.

Unite Scotland does not accept the figure given by RBS that only 1% of customers use branch visits to make money transfers. Early in 2017, the global consultants, Accenture, conducted a considerable international survey on bank use which included consulting more than 3000 bank customers in the UK. Their results showed that bank usage is actually at its highest level since 2010. It found that more than half of bank customers - 53% - regularly access branch bank services compared to 47% seven years ago. That change is statistically significant. 

Our own anecdotal evidence from our members supports these findings - indeed the 500 branch closure programme already completed in Scotland by RBS guarantees that most standing branches are extremely busy.

As we have already noted above some years ago - during a previous closure programme - the directors of RBS made a pledge that they would never close one of their branches when it was “the last bank in town”. They have long ago reneged on that promise and now seem to treat it as no longer significant. That is demonstrated by the fact that in this round of proposed closures 13 towns will lose their last bank. They say they are the Royal Bank for Scotland. Tell that to the folk in Bannockburn, Beauly, Biggar, Carnwath, Castlebay,Corrie, Douglas Lanarkshire, Gretna, Inveraray, Kilwinning, Melrose,Stepps,Tongue.

It seems pertinent in this regard to consider if a bank which has been bailed out to the tune of £45bn by the taxpayer and is, as a result, 71% owned by the taxpayer doesn’t have some sort of social and community obligation to continue to provide vital bank services in areas which desperately need them. The directors and executives of RBS are obligated to consult with local communities about local branch closures. Whether this has actually been done across Scotland, seems at this stage to be at least open to serious question. The public outrage which is developing in local communities as the closure programme comes to light seems to attest to that. 

We hope that the points made here illustrate our concerns about the RBS effectively. We look forward to hearing from you regarding the possibility of an early meeting so that we might discuss alternative proposals to those of RBS.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Alexander, Deputy Regional Secretary,
Unite Scotland
22 York Place
Edinburgh
EH1 3EP 

Appendix 1 – RBS Closure Plans 

Royal Bank of Scotland Branch  / Closure Date in 2018

1 Linlithgow 27/06
2 Alloa 19/06
3 Bannockburn 15/05
4 Bridge of Allan 11/06
5 Dunblane 20/05
6 Kinross 25/06
7 Bonnyrigg 24/05
8 Dunbar 30/05
9 Duns 05/06
10 Eyemouth 11/06
11 Hawick 14/06
12 Jedburgh 18/06
13 Melrose 21/06
14 North Berwick 25/06
15 Penicuik 28/06
16 Selkirk 21/05
17 Aberdeen Bridge of Don 17/05
18 Banff 23/05
19 Dyce 31/05

RBS Branch Closure date in 2018

20 Ellon 07/06
21 Huntly 14/06
22 Nairn 21/06
23 Turriff 26/06
24 Comrie 13/06
25 Dundee Stobswell 20/06
26 Montrose 06/06
27 Perth South Street 27/06
28 Aviemore 31/05
29 Beauly 06/06
30 Grantown on Spey 11/06
31 Inverness Queensgate – Business Branch 27/06
32 Tain 20/06
33 Tongue 14/06
34 Wick 17/05
35 Aberfeldy 07/06
36 Castlebay 14/06
37 Inveraray 21/06
38 Kyle 28/06
39 Mallaig 17/05
40 Pitlochry 31/05
41 Annan 25/06
42 Gretna 07/06
43 Langholm 30/05
44 Lockerbie 21/06
45 Glasgow Business Centre 20/06
46 Stepps 20/06
47 Airdrie 24/05
48 Bellshill 11/06
49 Biggar 31/05
50 Carnwath 25/06
51 Douglas Lanarkshire 21/05
52 Larkhall 04/06
53 Lesmahagow 19/06
54 Strathaven 07/06
55 Tannochside 14/06
56 Campbeltown 29/05
57 Kilbirnie 05/06
58 Kilwinning 11/06
59 Renfrew 14/06
60 Rothesay 26/06
61 Saltcoats 20/06
62 Hamilton Cadzow Street 28/06