Plans by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to close dozens of branches in Scotland have been branded “economic vandalism” by Labour’s Richard Leonard.
The Scottish Labour leader also claimed the reason why the Tory government had not opposed the move was because Chancellor Philip Hammond was “fattening up the Royal Bank of Scotland to sell to his friends in the city of London”.
Speaking at a demonstration outside an RBS branch in Aviemore in the Highlands which is among those earmarked for closure, Mr Leonard said: “My grave concern is that Philip Hammond is more interested in fattening the Royal Bank up for a sale to the city of London’s institutions than he is to safeguarding services in rural communities like this one.”
RBS has put forward plans to close 62 branches in Scotland, although bosses have granted a temporary reprieve to ten of these, allowing them to remain open until the end of 2018 with an independent review on their long-term future.
However, the Labour MSP said the closures amounted to “the economic vandalism of rural communities” as he criticised the “anti-social behaviour” of RBS bosses.
He insisted there was a “social responsibility” on the bank to provide a service to its customers, particularly “older customers who rely on the face-to-face service that branches like this provide”.
Mr Leonard said: “This is not simply a question of economics and politics, it is a question of what kind of society do we want.
“There is a very clear political dimension to this because what this is about is not the economic cost of running branches in Scotland, this is about Philip Hammond fattening up the Royal Bank of Scotland to sell to his friends in the city of London.”
He insisted plans to shut the banks were not yet “a fait accompli”, arguing: “This is not a campaign about mitigation, this is not about getting a few extra mobile services into communities. This is about opposition.
“The Royal Bank of Scotland is 71 per cent owned by the people of this country and we want 100 per cent control of the activities of this bank.
“This isn’t just a campaign we can win, it is a campaign we must win, must win for communities like this the length and breadth of Scotland.”
Jane Howard, managing director for personal banking, has said RBS is committed to ensuring customers and communities were able to continue to access “quality banking services”.
Meanwhile, RBS rival, Lloyds Banking Group, announced 1,230 jobs will be cut across its network in England Wales and 49 branches closures.
Yesterday it said it hopes to redeploy affected staff where possible, with compulsory redundancies a “last resort”. The group is also creating 925 roles and insisted the overall job losses would be 305.