Rural communities across the Highlands feel "powerless" in the face of recent branch closures announced by the Royal Bank of Scotland, according to Kate Forbes MSP.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament chamber, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch called for a reversal of the decision and also greater consultation with people living in rural areas so that customers' needs helped shape the future banking provision in the region.

Ms Forbes has visited three of the four branches earmarked for closure in her own constituency, and said she was particularly concerned how the elderly and the vulnerable – as well as those without adequate broadband – will continue to be able to access their banking services.  

If the closures go ahead, some customers will have to drive well over an hour to find their nearest branch.

Kate Forbes MSP said: "So many people right across Scotland feel powerless as national banks close branches at a faster rate than ever before, withdrawing from communities, leaving many customers behind.

"And there were so many speakers in the debate because MSPs have a responsibility to highlight our constituents' concerns, despite banking being a reserved matter and despite the Scottish Government having no formal power to intervene.
"The recent announcement by RBS to close 62 branches in Scotland is just the latest, but certainly the most ruthless – meaning that there will be only 89 RBS branches open in Scotland – compared to around 300 in April 2013.

"I believe they should reverse that decision, not least because in 2008, we collectively bailed out the Royal Bank of Scotland at a cost of £45 billion and we, the taxpayers, are still the majority shareholder.
"The very customers who feel powerless and the very customers who will be most disadvantaged are the very customers whose taxes funded that bailout."
"It is the most fragile and vulnerable customers who will suffer most."

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: "Whilst many people are choosing to bank online or to bank on their phone app, not everybody is, not everybody can, and not everybody will.
"It is the older and vulnerable customers who do not have access to the internet and still visit the local branch on weekly basis, because they trust the staff and they struggle to access services in other ways.
"It's the cash-based businesses operating in largely cash-based economies, like tourism.
"And it's the communities of remote and rural Scotland, badly hit by closures already, with unreliable ATMs and patchy broadband.

"I know that RBS is putting alternatives in place, including a mobile branch, but it is vital that customers' needs shape the future banking provision."