TSB building could become another charity shop in Wick
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North politicians and local councillors were united in their condemnation of an email sent by a TSB boss outlining the reasons for closing the Wick branch next year.
The email came from the government affairs manager of the bank, Ross Gurdin, who outlined the reasons behind the closure and said if the building at 74 High Street did not immediately sell it would be offered to "local charities" for a period of time.
Local councillor and Caithness civic leader, Willie Mackay, said: "According to Mr Gurdin, the Wick TSB branch has 24 regular weekly customers and noted these figures reflected usage between March 2019 and February 2020 and, of course, was much quieter throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
"He then goes on to say the alternative TSB branch is 20.7 miles away [in Thurso] and customers will be able to carry out a number of activities at the local post office and access cash at the closest ATM."
North MP Jamie Stone, however, pointed out that the nearby post office on Bridge Street will not be operating when the bank closes in March 2021 as it ceases trading at the end of this month.
Mr Stone said: "The situation has become almost impossible in Wick with the last post office closing altogether. This wrecks any argument by a bank for closing a branch because customers can use the local post office.
He added that he has tabled a "named day written question" to the UK Government. "It cannot possibly be the policy of any responsible government to let this sort of situation develop, and that is precisely why I have asked the question that I have. I have also imposed a time limit on the answer to the question and I will pursue this matter with the utmost vigour."
Also in the email, Mr Gurdin reports that the company's focus ahead of closure is on helping customers at the Wick branch "adjust to this transition, particularly the most vulnerable".
North MSP Gail Ross said: “I am sick of the banks trying to force people online in order to save money. These branches in rural areas are lifelines for some people, especially the elderly that don’t use internet banking. As this is a reserved matter, Westminster needs to look at regulation to stop this constant drain of our high streets.
Mrs Ross added: “Whilst the news of the offer to a local charity to use the building is welcome and I hope it would be a decent offer in terms of rent and conditions, the point about using the post office is so out of touch as to be embarrassing, given our local circumstances. We really need a better solution from the TSB – it’s time to give back to the communities that have given them so much support over many years.”
Councillor Mackay said: "I’m disappointed at the alternative which offers little or no help to the loyal customers at the branch and in his final comment in which he says 'where we cannot provide the support the customer needs we will help them switch to another bank'."
His fellow ward councillor Nicola Sinclair said she was "dismayed" to hear that another bank is withdrawing from Wick and "deeply disappointed" that Ross Gurdin's letter was sent out only after the news had broken in the press.
Councillor Sinclair added: "The letter from the TSB suggests that customers can do their banking at our local post office instead, which shows total ignorance of the situation here in Wick.
"I understand the move towards online banking but for many customers, particularly those who are elderly or have disabilities, the local branch was really important.
"We have patchy broadband cover especially in our rural areas and many people living in poverty without access to a digital device. I am angry and disappointed that yet another bank which saw fit to accept a taxpayer bailout is leaving our community in the lurch.’
Mr Gudrin said: "The difficult decision to close the branch was informed by detailed local analysis which can be found in our branch closure impact assessment. This is available in the branch and at www.tsb.co.uk/our-branches/ .
"I hope this helps to explain our decision to close the branch and the steps we are taking to safeguard the interests of our customers."