Calls for ‘banking hub’ to ease the sting of rural closures

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The deputy first minister has called on banks to form “hubs” to save banking facilities in rural areas.

John Swinney believes several banks sharing one building could be the solution to branch closures, which have hit rural Perthshire hard in recent months.

In December 2017 RBS announced it was closing 62 branches, with the loss of 158 jobs. Branches in Perth, Pitlochry, Aberfeldy, Kinross, Comrie and Dunblane were among those axed in the months that followed.

They said the decision was based on customer numbers dropping by almost 50% since 2012 and they said internet banking had soared by 73%.

Last month, TSB announced plans to slash opening hours at branches including in Blairgowrie, Coupar Angus, Pitlochry and Aberfeldy.

It is understood Natwest, Lloyds and Barclays are currently piloting six shared hubs for business customers to test the viability of such an arrangement.

In a meeting with TSB officials last week, Mr Swinney confirmed there would be no job losses as a result of the reduced hours and also proposed they enter into a hub arrangement with other firms.

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He said: “The idea of a ‘banking hub’ is worthy of particular consideration and I hope this is something that can be explored.

“Whilst the cutting of branch opening hours is clearly not good news for local communities, it is preferable to outright closure.

“I would hope the business decisions taken by TSB will ensure the continued viability of branches across Perthshire but, should any attempts be made in future years to close these facilities, I will vigorously oppose such moves.”

A spokesman for TSB said they were open to the possibility of such a move.

He said: “Our focus remains on ensuring that our customers, especially the elderly and those most vulnerable to branch closures, receive the assistance they need to continue to access TSB banking services, including our partnership with the Post Office to provide basic account services.

“We are also open to exploring other options including banking hubs.”

A spokeswoman for RBS added: “We have approximately 2,500 physical service points where customers can access cash and banking services across Scotland through a variety of methods including our ATM network, branches, community bankers, mobile branches.

“This also includes our partnership with the 1400 Post Offices in Scotland, which acts as a shared banking hub where customers can do most of their every day banking needs.”