Unite today (May 30) held a demo in Manchester marking the launch of the union’s campaign to save dozens of Royal Bank of Scotland branches earmarked for closure.
The North West is the region poised to be hardest hit by RBS proposals which may see 64 branches shut down and would threaten more than 400 jobs.
The Manchester protest coincides with another Unite demo in Edinburgh, Scotland also held today (May 30) outside the bank’s annual general meeting (AGM) and comes as its chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson announced a surprise resignation just ahead of the meeting.
Unite North West regional officer Helen Camp, who attended the demo in Manchester (pictured below), said the event was “very well supported”.
“We had about 50 people who turned out, including Unite members, activists and people from the community,” she noted. “There was also substantial media interest and Labour MP for Manchester Gorton Afzal Khan – whose constituency will be affected the closures – joined us as well.”
Unite North West regional officer John Nolan attended the demo and AGM in Edinburgh where he and other Unite officials piled the pressure on RBS executives and shareholders as they highlighted the issue of branch closures.
“We told them that they cannot possibly justify closing so many branches when they wasted £1.8bn in their failed IT project with Williams & Glyn banks – and now workers, customers and local communities are being forced to pay for their mismanagement.”
Nolan said the demo in Edinburgh was likewise well-attended, with plenty of media presence as well.
Both Camp and Nolan highlighted that the planned closures will have a massive impact on the North West – in the region alone, seven communities will be left without a single, fully-serviced bank branch in town.
RBS has justified their closures by highlighting that they will maintain NatWest branches that are near closed RBS branches, but Camp said this was disingenuous.
“People who bank with RBS will not be able to access full banking services such as opening an account, applying for a credit card, or receiving financial advice,” she explained. “This will have a massive impact on high streets and independent traders that local communities depend on, not to mention vulnerable people, those in rural areas, the disabled and the elderly.”
Nolan highlighted the most extreme case in the region is Barrow, where people will have to travel 135 miles round trip to Preston to access full banking services.
“Their plans are going to rip the hearts of local communities,” he said. “It’s nothing short of corporate vandalism.”
RBS, as a 71 per cent taxpayer-owned bank, has come under fire for ploughing through with the plans to shut 262 branches across England, Wales and Scotland, in total affecting 800 jobs, even as it reported profits last year of £752m.
It has been reported that the government may recommence selling off RBS shares as soon as this week after the bank paid a penalty of nearly £4bn to US authorities for selling toxic mortgage bonds during the financial crisis. The settlement is understood to be the final hurdle that will pave the way for the government to re-privatise the bank.
But any future sell-off will be at a massive loss -RBS shares are now trading at 280p per share, well below the 502p per share taxpayers paid to bail out the bank.
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell today urged the government to use its majority stake in the bank to halt the branch closures.
“Taxpayers stepped in to save RBS after bankers drove our economy off a cliff,” he said. “Now it’s time for the government to step up and defend the public interest by stopping RBS’s reckless plans to close hundreds of local bank branches.
“Rather than dancing to the tune of the bank’s board and trying to sell off taxpayer-owned shares on the cheap, the government should be standing up for the people and communities which depend on their local branches.”
Camp and Nolan agreed.
“As a bank majority-owned by all of us taxpayers, it has a duty to its customers and to local communities,” Camp said.
“Our campaign launched today is very much a grassroots one with local communities at its centre,” she added. “We’ll be lobbying MPs and asking trading associations and customers alike to join us. Today is only the beginning of our fight.”