As with the council’s desire to move all its transactions online, the banks are desperate to cut the amount of hard cash they handle to a minimum and the rush to close branches is the most visible evidence.
For the whole of East Edinburgh, RBS and the Bank of Scotland have branches in Leith, The Bank of Scotland has one in Portobello and that’s it. RBS has a branch in Musselburgh but Clydesdale, soon to be swallowed by Virgin, just has an ATM in Craigentinny.
Not without some justification, the UK banks fend off criticism by pointing to increased efficiency from getting rid of cash, but also as a good way to clamp down on tax evasion and to tackle general criminality because every transaction leaves a traceable digital footprint.
Sweden is leading the charge towards a cashless society, with 85 per cent of Swedish retail transactions done electronically (it’s currently 58 per cent in the UK) and Swedish bank SEB bank only accepts hard kronor in seven of its 118 branches.
But there has been a backlash and a study is expected by the Swedish parliament later this year into the implications of a loot-free economy after the Riksbank’s annual report in February warned that the move away from cash should not “not create problems for certain social groups or exclude anyone from the payment market”.
Somewhat pessimistically, the Riksbank governor even warned of the consequences if Sweden was at war, which it hasn’t been since 1814.
Edinburgh council and the Scottish banks take note.