'Hello Wick' and goodbye Wick as another bank closes its doors
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Have a look at our brand new digital subscription packages!
Exactly a year after it opened with a fanfare another Wick bank is set to close its doors it was announced today.
Virgin Money (VM) has laid plans to close 12 stores in Scotland, as it "adapts to changing customer demand", with one of these being the branch at 30 Bridge Street in Wick – a former Clydesdale Bank which became one of the first of 55 throughout the UK to be rebranded as Virgin Money in September 2020 and now earmarked for closure on January 17, 2022.
A statement from VM issued this morning reads: "Virgin Money regularly reviews the ways customers use its stores, as well as its online, mobile and telephone channels, so that it can adapt its services to meet changing customer demand. The number of customers using bank branches for day-to-day transactions has been on a downward trajectory across the UK banking industry for a number of years, and this has been further accelerated by the pandemic.
"The decision to close a store is based on a number of factors, including location, usage, proximity to alternative stores and lease arrangements. Each store was assessed on an individual basis, with careful consideration of the impact on the local area, as well as the needs of vulnerable customers and the accessibility of alternative services such as free-to-use ATMs and the Post Office."
In its press release the bank states that the "new host address" for the Wick branch will be based 101 miles away at Academy Street in Inverness and that "some colleagues will be at risk of redundancy". The bank expects to lose 112 full-time staff across the UK with 76 of those being in Scotland. It is not known at present if the employees at the Wick branch have been offered alternative positions or will be made redundant.
Commenting on the news, local MP Jamie Stone said: "This is beyond endurance. Should people in the far north really have to be so desperately disadvantaged? Absolutely not. I shall raise this – yet again – in the Commons at the earliest opportunity. The question is – will Boris’ government listen and actually do something to retain banking services in local communities? The jury is out."
Trudy Morris, chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: "Access to banking services in town centres is of vital importance to businesses, and this news of yet another branch closure is a real blow, particularly as it comes so soon after a high-profile rebranding. We are also deeply concerned at the possibility for redundancies as a result of this decision, which comes at an already difficult time with the furlough scheme coming to an end.
"It is increasingly clear that the existing model of delivery for high-street banks does not work, particularly in a post-pandemic world. What we need is for Government and the banking industry to work together to find a successful, sustainable model to allow remote and rural communities to retain access to the in-person banking services they require."
Provost of Wick, councillor Willie Mackay said: "Well it didn’t take them long to get on the bank bandwagon exit out of town. For a bank that said last year it was well known for its great customer service and innovation, declaring exciting times for Wick and offering services beyond the traditional bank branch in the past, what an embarrassment this is."
"What’s more, if the past is anything to go by, bearing in mind the disappearance of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the TSB, then asking them for a rethink will fall on deaf ears."
Councillor Mackay added: "It will no doubt be the usual comments, less people venturing through their doors and online banking technology. I’m afraid these banks have their own agenda and a disappointing one at that."
Wick and East Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner said: "It’s really disappointing to see another high street bank closing its doors in Wick and I really feel for those who will be affected – especially staff and those who have relied on physical access to banking. It is hard to see how this trend can be reversed with so much online access and digital ways of managing money matters."
Unite the Union 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.
Debbie Hutchings, Unite industrial officer, said: "The proposed closure of 12 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."
Virgin Money said it will work with customers for a smooth transition and provide a range of support services prior to store closures including digital workshops.