Bank Branch Closures

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th February 2019.

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Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the impact on communities of banks reportedly closing branches without consultation, such as Santander in the South Scotland region. (S5O-02869)

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I am sorry to be answering this question again. I remain deeply concerned at the scale of branch closures across Scotland. Those concerns will be shared by communities, vulnerable members of our society and small businesses that rely on access to local banking services, particularly in rural areas such as that represented by Claudia Beamish. I appreciate that banks must operate on a commercial basis. However, Santander and other banks must take into account the needs of all customers. Digital should never be exclusive and the only means by which customers can engage with their banks.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

The minister raised a very interesting point and I agree with her, but what steps can the Scottish Government take to ensure that there is a banking presence on our high streets? That is very important. It is also important to make sure that there are measures that the Scottish Government can take to make it easier for credit unions to have a high street presence as well.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

Although we bear it in mind that banking is a reserved area, we appreciate that the impact on communities is not reserved. Just yesterday, I had a meeting with Which?—it has done a lot of research on the matter—and with Unite the union, to look at the impact that branch closures are having on communities and on the employees. Steps that the Scottish Government has taken include regular meetings with banks to make clear our disappointment with the scale of closures and the lack of consultation with communities in many cases. We also look at alternatives. One of those alternatives is credit unions, and it is worth noting that a much higher level of the Scottish population, at 7.3 per cent, is enrolled in a credit union than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In November, we launched a campaign to encourage people to sign up to credit unions. We have previously funded junior saver schemes and the First Minister has written to employers to look at partnering with credit unions. We have also engaged with the Post Office.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

There was no consultation in advance—just a letter telling longstanding members of the Santander branch in Helensburgh that they need to travel 40 miles for their nearest bank branch. The minister said that she regularly meets some of the banks. Has she met Santander, and will she seek a meeting specifically to encourage it to reconsider the extent of the closures?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I will happily meet Santander. I meet the bank regularly and make clear my disappointment in those areas. I know well the impact of closures, particularly in rural communities. Scottish Government officials are currently in contact with Santander and will continue to engage with the bank. We do all that we can with the powers that we have to make clear our displeasure, but at the end of the day, when it comes to regulation, that is a reserved matter.