Cash Action Group and LINK to consult Forres community on solutions after last bank in town closes doors permanently
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MORAY'S leading politicians have condemned High Street banks for deserting Forres but a pilot "bank hub" scheme could be on the cards.
The last remaining local branch - the Bank of Scotland (BoS) at 102 High Street - closed its doors for the final time on Monday, July 11 leaving Forres with none, a move that has been slammed by both Douglas Ross MP and Richard Lochhead MSP.
Mr Ross is a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, which was critical in its report ' Access to Cash in Scotland' - he sought agreement from the group's chair Pete Wishart that banking hubs would help towns like Forres.
He said: "The last branch closing in Forres is another example of the moral bankruptcy at the heart of our banking companies and the complete contempt they show towards loyal customers.
"The Bank of Scotland’s attitude towards this closure was rotten. They refused to come to Forres to meet with customers because they know they have abandoned elderly and vulnerable customers, and their case for closure does not add up. With many communities still poorly connected in Moray, online banking simply isn’t an option for many. Bank bosses care little and pull the rug from under customers who have stuck by them. Towns the size of Forres should not be left without banking services."
He added: "A banking hub could be set up to reassure customers that they will still be able to access and deposit cash in their own communities."
Mr Wishart agreed that banks have failed to properly explain the reasons behind the closures.
Mr Lochhead apportions part of the blame for branch closures on the UK government.
He said: "It is a disgrace that banks are abandoning communities. Forres isn't the first community in Moray to be left in this position and a lack of action from the UK Government to protect local banking services has allowed banks to get away with it.
"It has been clear for years that UK Government Ministers needed to change regulations to ensure people could continue to access cash. We need our local MP to put pressure on his Conservative colleagues to step in and stop banks from deserting rural communities."
The BoS claims that over 100 measures are used over a number of years to understand how a branch is being used. These revealed 74 per cent of Forres branch customers were using other branches, online or telephone banking.
The bank also claimed staff engaged with the community, providing guidance on alternative ways to bank.
The Gazette asked how many members of staff worked at the Forres Bank of Scotland at the time of permanent closure.
BoS's answer was: "We don’t have a set figure for the number of colleagues that work at any given branch as we operate a flexible pooling system across a number of branches.
"There have been no compulsory redundancies as a result of the Forres branch closing."
A BoS spokesperson added: Just like many other high street businesses, fewer customers are choosing to visit our branches, and visits to our Forres branch fell by over 50 per cent in the five years to 2020 and a further 19 per cent in the year following.
"Customers can continue to bank with us in person at any Bank of Scotland branch, or the local Post Office, which is less than half a mile away."
However, there could be some good news as LINK - the UK's largest cash machine network - is assessing the situation with the Cash Action Group which has developed and agreed a new approach to protecting cash access in the long term.
CAG spokesperson Cat Farrow said: "Following recent meetings with local politicians, CAG has agreed to fund a pilot programme for the remainder of the year.
"We have initiated discussions with LINK, the Post Office and the banks with the most customers in the local area - and are now actively looking at pilot solutions for Forres. This will move quickly over the coming weeks.
"The next step will be engaging with the community through focus groups to understand how we can support local people and businesses."