Unite’s condemnation of a swathe of planned Royal Bank of Scotland branch closures was heard loud and clear by the bank’s top brass today (May 30), after members spoke out at the bank’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Edinburgh.
RBS bosses and shareholders were met by placard carrying protesters as they entered RBS’ headquarters, as well as hearing from members in attendance at the AGM who are concerned at the devastating impact the proposed cuts will have on jobs and local communities.
The 72 per cent state owned bank, which was bailed out by the taxpayer following the 2008 financial crisis, is planning to close 280 branches across the UK – including 62 in Scotland – a move that will result in the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs.
Unite rep Imtiaz Mahmood, a branch worker for RBS subsidiary Natwest, travelled from Leicester to address board members and stakeholders at the meeting.
Mahmood said, “When the first automated tellers were introduced, staff were instructed to show customers how to use the machines that were putting them out of the job – even though management said there was no chance of that happening. Now the same thing’s going on with online banking.
“They don’t want the first thing staff say to customers to be ‘hello, how are you?’ but ‘did you know you could have done this at home’. They want everybody out the branches. They say demand has fallen, but the truth is they’ve created the fall themselves.”
Yesterday (May 29) members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) heard how banks had “turned their back” on Scottish communities, leaving vulnerable and disabled people without access to financial services and causing a drop in profits of up to 15 per cent for small businesses in areas where branches have closed.
Unite member and NHS worker Heather Gilfillan, who attended the protest outside the AGM, echoed those concerns.
Unite’s Heather Gilfillan grills RBS CEO Ross McEwan
She said, “I come from a little old mining village in East Lothian that will be left without a bank and it’s horrendous. We have elderly people who don’t go on the internet – RBS are expecting them to travel to the next town or even further just to do their banking.
Senior RBS rep Harriet Culkin travelled from London to attend the protest and described the programme of widespread branch closures as “overwhelming”.
Slash and burn strategies
“All we’ve had for the last 10 years with RBS is job losses and bank closures. It’s just slash and burn policies based on the excesses of the pre-2008 culture and it’s still going on, despite the bank being publicly owned.
“Surely they must have some social responsibility to the communities they’re leaving with nothing.”
Unite regional officer Lyn Turner, who gave evidence at yesterday’s Scottish parliamentary committee meeting, said the government had “abdicated its responsibility to the British taxpayer” by allowing the bank closures to go ahead.
“At today’s AGM we called on ordinary shareholders to question the bank’s executives on this disastrous decision that will hurt local communities and businesses alike,” Turner said.
“We have deep concerns about the alternatives RBS want to put in place, such as mobile banking vans and the use of Post Offices. There are huge issues around security, privacy and disability access and access to internet banking in rural areas were broadband is predominantly poor or very slow.”
Unite Scotland regional secretary Pat Rafferty called on RBS to “find its moral compass and sense of social responsibility”.
He said, “As well as risking our members’ livelihoods, these closures will have a hugely devastating effect on communities, especially in Scotland. The fact is these closures don’t need to happen, because RBS is back in profit following a £45m bail out from the taxpayer.
“Rather than forgetting that the bank belongs to all of us and embarking on short sighted cost cutting, RBS’ bosses need to ensure its hard working staff and the communities they serve are protected.”
Pics by Craig MacLean