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Small communities bearing the brunt of 'antisocial' bank closures, says Jamie Stone

By Alan Hendry

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Jamie Stone says people are depending on cash for budgeting purposes. Picture: Callum Mackay
Jamie Stone says people are depending on cash for budgeting purposes. Picture: Callum Mackay

North MP Jamie Stone has warned that small communities are bearing the brunt of "antisocial" bank branch closures and the loss of cash machines.

He claims that people who are vulnerable or elderly, or who live too far away from a free-to-use ATM, are losing out at a time of crisis over the cost of living.

Mr Stone was speaking as his party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, called for "meaningful action" to preserve access to banking following the publication of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s report on Access to Cash in Scotland. It revealed that Scotland has the highest rate of bank closures across the UK, with 53 per cent of branches shutting since 2015 and 20 per cent of free ATMs closing since 2018.

The report notes that 500,000 people in Scotland depend on cash for budgeting and bills.

Mr Stone, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “Small communities are bearing the brunt of these antisocial, large-scale closures. Those who are vulnerable or elderly or who simply live too far away from a free-to-use ATM are losing out badly at a time of national crisis.

"Not only are locals being denied another important service, but it hurts tourists and visitors who may be seeking cash outside normal shop hours to use in local bars and restaurants.

“In an ever-escalating cost of living emergency, where people are depending on cash for budgeting purposes, the worrying number of bank closures is simply pouring salt on the wound.

"Lib Dems have consistently called on both the Scottish and UK governments to do more to find a solution to bank branch closures. We will continue to call for schemes like community hubs and for the Financial Conduct Authority to prevent banks from carrying out large-scale closures without first providing adequate alternatives.

“The Scottish Government must act on empty promises and help some of the most vulnerable in our community. Only by working in partnership with Westminster, rather than engaging in toxic squabbles with it, can this happen."

Caithness is among the areas that have been hit hard by bank closures.

The Wick branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland closed its doors in May 2018, TSB pulled out of the town in March 2021 and its Virgin Money branch shut in January this year. TSB closed its Thurso branch in April, citing a decline in branch use with more customers switching to digital banking.

The summary to the Scottish Affairs Committee report states: "The Covid-19 pandemic saw retailers seek to encourage customers to use contactless means of payment, whilst successive lockdowns across Scotland and the UK accelerated the transition to online banking due to temporary branch closures. Cash usage has recently returned, but it is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels.

"Whilst innovation in the financial sector should be welcomed, there are significant concerns about the ability of vulnerable groups and those living in isolated or rural locations to continue to access cash if branch closures and changes to the ATM network continue on the same trajectory. There is also a concern that the transition to digital will overlook those who prefer to use cash, for example for budgeting reasons, and those who prefer to bank in branch rather than online."

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