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31 August 2016

Branch closures bad news for high street

There was a time when the local bank manager was a well-known figure in any small town and as important in the local community hierarchy as the local doctor, minister or solicitor.  The local bank was part of the town and so the staff knew the issues affecting the community and local businesses.

While there is no denying that online banking has made life much easier for many of us, there are still many small businesses who rely on a local bank branch for key services, such as depositing and withdrawing cash and opening bank accounts.  If business owners are spending more time travelling to their nearest branch, then that’s vital time away from running their business.  On top of this, the ongoing issue of broadband and mobile “not spots” mean that for many, online banking is not a realistic option. Cullen

That’s why we’ve expressed concern over the announcement of another spate of bank branch closures, this time from Bank of Scotland, who are closing 23 branches across Scotland – including those in Aberlour, Cullen and Fochabers.  In the case of Cullen and Fochabers, these closures will mean that they have lost the last bank in each town.

In addition to serving their local customers, branches also play an important role as part of the fabric of our high streets, attracting people in and making it more likely that they will spend locally, too. Take away the bank and you take away the shopper.

And if we want our town centres to be strong, vibrant places, we need to ensure that they have a good mix of retailers and other businesses, together with public and private employers.  The future of our high streets can’t rest on independent shops alone.

Many towns in Moray have already lost local services because of big business or public sector re-organisations. And while on paper, it might make short term commercial sense to rationalise operations, the long term impact of these decisions on local communities could destroy the efforts to rejuvenate our high streets and save our town centres.

coinsSo, we are urging Bank of Scotland to think long and hard about the effect that these closures will have not only on small businesses, but our communities.  And we are also calling on the banking sector as a whole to take a more innovative approach to maintaining a presence in our high streets  - what about different banks getting together to run shared branches in small towns, as happens in the US?  Or setting up counters in existing council offices or other public buildings? 

A bit of innovative thinking by our banks and public services could ensure that the rug isn’t pulled from under local towns and the communities that they serve.

 

Catherine Ward is FSB's Development Manager for North East Scotland 

This article first appeared in the Northern Scot 

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