There is no evidence that bank branch closures have a long-term effect on local communities, MSPs have heard.
Professor Russel Griggs told Holyrood’s Economy Committee that his research suggested communities were able to “move on” after local banks closed their doors.
The committee was taking evidence on the impact of closures on local businesses, consumers and the Scottish economy in the wake of RBS’ decision to shut at least 52 branches across the country, with a further 10 under review.
Professor Griggs, chairman of the new South of Scotland Economic Partnership, carried out a recent review of the 2015 access to banking protocol put in place to manage the way bank branch closures are handled.
He said: “When I did my work, which is now two years ago, and went back and spoke to the communities that had lost their banks ... there’s no long-term empirical evidence just now to show that there is any effect.
“If you go back and speak to a lot of the communities, most communities have moved on, so they found other ways to do things etc.
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“So while there was a heavy impact at the time, the communities, the businesses etc, have found other ways of doing what they were going to do and in fact one of them, when I went to see them, said it’s pointless having the discussion because we’ve all moved on now and we don’t want to go back to where we were.
“So I think it probably has a short-term effect but the evidence that I saw as I went around and visited probably 20 or 30 places across the whole of the UK looking at this, is that it settles down again and people go back to doing what they used to do but just in a different way and it’s interesting they don’t tend to move banks.”
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He said that during recent consultation meetings held with hundreds of people across the south of Scotland in connection with the new economic partnership, bank branch closures had been raised only once.
Thomas Docherty, public affairs manager for consumer organisation Which?, said there was a need for more robust evidence on the long-term effects of closures.
He said: “There hasn’t been a proper study done by anybody of what those longer-term impacts would be on the rate of closures.
“By the end of this year in Scotland more than 250 branches will have closed in the last four years.
“I think when you start to get that scale of closures somebody should be stepping up and carrying out that proper investigation.
“The people who are most likely of course to be affected are older customers and customers who are more vulnerable.
“Yes online banking is growing but only 56% of customers, according to UK Finance, currently use online banking, so what is happening to the other 44% - how are their needs being serviced?”