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Stone calls for Government meetings over bank branch crisis

By Matt Leslie

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North MP Jamie Stone has requested Government meetings to discuss implementing shared banking hubs in rural areas of the UK.

Sutherland, which extends to 2028 square miles and has a population of 13,500, has been left with only one bank branch, the Bank of Scotland in Golspie.

Since 2015 the Bank of Scotland has closed its branches in Dornoch, Lairg, Helmsdale and Bonar Bridge, and the Royal Bank of Scotland has shut its branches in Tongue and Lochinver.

Clydesdale closed its Brora branch, while Caithness suffered the loss of the Royal Bank of Scotland branch on Wick's Bridge Street.

Some of Mr Stone's constituents in his Westminster seat of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross will face a 150-mile round trip to their nearest branch and those relying on public transport will have a three-and-a-half-hour bus journey each way.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrat MP said: "The closure of rural bank branches is a massive issue in my constituency.

"Can I remind the House that we now only have one bank branch in the vast county of Sutherland. I have met with some of the UK's clearing banks and they've said that they would consider developing banking hubs together to give one-stop shops, but in order to do so they would like to work with the Government.

"So can I make a plea to the Leader of the House to ensure that I can have a meeting with appropriate ministers to see how we can sort out this truly desperate situation?"

Responding to Mr Stone, the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said: "I think the issue he raises is one that is of concern to many members and therefore I will see what I can do to arrange a suitable meeting."

Commenting after the exchange, Mr Stone said: "I am pleased that the Leader of the House is taking my request seriously and has agreed to facilitate these meetings.

"If banks were to work together, they could provide a joint branch in every community over a certain size giving customers face-to-face advice and the ability to accept cash and cheques, regardless of which bank you are actually with.

"But this will only happen with Government backing and I hope these meetings will show the Government the need and the demand for combined banking facilities."

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