Unite the union has today (30 September) reacted with anger over the proposed closure of 31 branches across the UK with Scotland being ‘disproportionately’ hit.

The trade union has warned that the ‘axe will fall the hardest’ in Scotland as remote island and rural communities, and town centres are set to be ‘left behind’ by Virgin Money.

The 12 branches in Scotland earmarked for closure are Airdrie, Banchory, Broughty Ferry, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Galashiels, Milngavie, Musselburgh, Oban, Portree, Stenhousemuir and Wick. It is estimated that around 76 employees in Scotland are likely to be made redundant due to branch location, and the lack of suitable transfer alternatives nearby.

In England, a further 19 branches are being proposed for closure including Ashton-under-Lyne, Beverley, Blackburn, Chesterfield, Grantham, Keighley, Nelson, Northallerton, Nuneaton, Grantham, Leeds (Horsforth), Leeds (White Rose), Lincoln, Macclesfield, Mexborough, Selby, Sheffield (Meadowhall), and Whitby. 

The Virgin Group also proposes to merge two stores in Newcastle into one flagship store located on Northumberland Street from June 2022. Unite estimates that across England and Scotland around 132 workers are likely to face compulsory redundancy due to location, and the lack of redeployment opportunities. 

The proposed closures come as the Virgin Group is completing the process of rebranding the former Clydesdale branches with new signs alongside the mobile banking app.

In 2018, Virgin Money acquired the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank Group (CYBG) in a £1.7 billion takeover which Unite warned at the time could result in a 16 per cent reduction in the combined workforce. Unite is the only recognised trade union within Virgin Money, with the banking group having an estimated workforce of around 7,800. 

The Virgin Group reported pre-tax profits of £72 million for the six months to March 31, 2021, as interim pre-tax profits more than doubled to £245m from £120m a year ago. The last annual profits before tax reported to 30 September 2020 totalled £127.7 million.

Debbie Hutchings, Unite industrial officer, said: “The proposed closure of twelve Virgin Money branches across Scotland is not only shameful but bizarre as the group has just about completed the rebranding exercise of the former Clydesdale branches.”

“The announcement will disproportionately impact on workers and communities across Scotland, and it is here where the Virgin Group axe will fall the hardest. Island communities from Portree to rural towns such as Wick are going to be left behind by Virgin Money. Our nation’s town centres from Cumbernauld to Musselburgh will be further hollowed out as fewer people will come into town if there is no bank branch. This will directly hit the businesses that remain on the high street.” 

“The Virgin Money Group claim the principal reason for the closures is down to its digital banking drive. However, what happens to the people in our Island and Highland communities where internet reception is notoriously poor not to mention the difficulties which many people have in using mobile app technology.” 

The Virgin Group has abandoned all social responsibility with these proposed closures, and they are completely disregarding the damaging effects that these closures will have on thousands of customers. We are calling on politicians in the areas affected to work with us to save these branches, and Unite will be raising this as a matter of urgency with the Scottish Government.”

Caren Evans, Unite national officer, said: “The announcement of the closure of a further 31 branches will be devastating for the Virgin Money workforce. This will impact some 277 staff roles across the country and thousands of customers.

“Colleagues in the branch network breathed a collective sigh of relief when previous CY branches were rebranded under the Virgin Money brand. It was admirable that staff rolled their sleeves up and ‘just got on with it’ despite the daily challenges brought with dual heritage policies and processes. Staff worked tirelessly through a global pandemic, supporting each other and loyal customers. Many put themselves at risk every day in order to keep the branches open. The announcement today comes as a betrayal to all employees who have kept this bank going.

“Unite has serious concerns about the implications this branch closure decision has on staff and also the communities they currently serve. The union is worried that there are approximately 24,000 customers based across these branches that are classed as vulnerable, all of whom will need to be directly contacted by the branch colleagues. This is a massive undertaking on an already pressurised network.”