Closure of TSB branch in Wick 'stinks', says far north MP Jamie Stone, as battle to save Caithness bank begins
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The imminent closure of the TSB branch in Wick 'stinks to high heaven' according the one local politician, as momentum gathered to fight the decision.
Bank bosses announced on Wednesday that 73 of its 135 Scottish branches were to close, including four in the Highlands – at Wick, Dingwall, Nairn and Grantown-on-Spey.
A total of 300 jobs will be affected by the decision as part of business changes the company had initially put forward in November 2019.
TSB said the move had been driven by a "significant change in customer behaviour, including a reduction in the numbers using branches and a significant acceleration in digital adoption".
It also said it would introduce 'mobile advisers' to help customers in rural areas and that it planned to enhance its banking services available through the Post Office network.
But Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, hit back at the latest bank closure in the area.
"This whole issue stinks to high heaven," he said.
"I am sick and tired of banks being closed – and I’m also sick and tired of the way that the government chooses to take no action.
"The treasury should intervene in this now. People need a network of bank branches and the government’s lame excuse that you can use your local post office instead rings particularly hollow in Wick."
Mr Stone added that he intended to raise the matter "yet again" with the government.
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Gail Ross is requesting an urgent meeting with TSB bosses to discuss the impact of the decision.
The SNP member said: “Make no mistake, most businesses have been hit hard by coronavirus – banks are no exception.
"But at a time when many are feeling isolated, a face-to-face banking service in the local community is indispensable for my constituents.
“I have requested a meeting with TSB bosses regarding the future of services in the area – the bank needs to rethink this decision and allow our high streets to fully recover from this pandemic."
Mrs Ross added: “I will fight to keep this branch open.”
Caithness civic leader and councillor for Wick and East Caithness, Willie Mackay, also vowed to fight to retain the branch in Wick.
He said: "This is another devastating blow for the town of Wick, even more so with the regeneration plans for the Royal Burgh gaining momentum.
"Banks continue to blame what they call a 'significant shift in customer behaviour' as more customers go online. This so-called change does not suit everyone and I wish they would put more thought into all the regular loyal customers that support the branch and have done for years."
Mr Mackay said he shall be writing to the bank's new chief executive Debbie Crosbie "appealing for a change of heart" and to "seriously reconsider" the closure.
The 73 closures are due to take place over 2021 and by the end of next year TSB will have only 62 branches left in Scotland – losing more than 50 per cent of its current 135 branches.
Robin Bulloch, customer banking director at TSB, said: “These decisions are the most difficult we take, but we must always be guided by our customers – and we are clearly witnessing a substantial shift towards digital banking.
“We operate a more extensive branch network than most other banks in Scotland, including some much larger than TSB, and we need to reduce its size to reflect the changing needs of our customers and a fast-evolving operational environment.
“TSB remains committed to offering high-quality banking services in branches across Scotland. We are also introducing mobile advisers to ensure we look after vulnerable customers and those in rural locations."
In addition to the national branch network, TSB said it was further enhancing its partnership with the Post Office including adding the ability to deposit and withdraw using a card, for both business and personal customers, and collect coin change from pre-agreed locations.
Many local people vented their opinions on social media last night with one woman calling the decision "shocking" and urging councillors to "stand up and save our town before there's nothing left".
Another Wick resident said there was "nothing to entice people to live here let alone run a business. Very shortly it's going to be a ghost town. Not everyone does online banking and with no post office I feel so sorry for the elderly".
Others talked about online banking killing high street branches and one local man suggested "that all TSB customers in Wick vote with their feet and change to any bank that will still have a branch in town. Don't let TSB profit from offering you a lack of service".