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LABOUR is accusing the government of pandering to big bankers in failing to halt the planned closures of hundreds of Royal Bank of Scotland branches that would result in a loss of around 1,000 jobs.
Today, on the day of the RBS annual general meeting, shadow chancellor John McDonnell is urging Chancellor Philip Hammond to “step up” and intervene.
He is calling on him to use the government’s role as majority shareholder to press RBS to act in the public interest rather than “dancing to the tune of the bank’s board” and attempting to sell off shares at a loss to the taxpayer.
RBS reported profits of £752 million last year but is pushing ahead with plans to close 259 branches, which will result in nearly 800 job losses in England and Wales alone.
Labour’s manifesto pledged to tackle the spate of high street bank closures by only permitting branches to be shut after a local consultation with customers and the council and with the permission of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Under the plans, banks would be required to publish details of the reasons for closure, including the revenues and costs of the branch in question.
Mr McDonnell said: “Taxpayers stepped in the save RBS after bankers drove our economy off a cliff. 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.”
Trade unionists will demonstrate outside the RBS AGM in Edinburgh at 12.30pm today, while union reps attending the meeting will directly challenge bank chiefs over how many jobs are at stake.
In evidence delivered to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament yesterday, general union Unite argues that the closure of 62 RBS branches in Scotland will devastate communities and decimate local economies.
Unite says a lack of a credible alternative banking system will have a disproportionate effect on the elderly and vulnerable.
“For many, internet banking is not an option,” Unite Scotland official Lyn Turner said, arguing that Holyrood’s inquiry into the closures could “send a loud message to RBS chiefs that their immoral actions are a historic betrayal of communities.”
Giving evidence, Mr Turner also said that RBS had massaged user figures to justify closing branches.
In Mallaig, the bank claimed to only have nine customers, having only counted those who came in every week. In fact, the union official said, there were 1,001 signed up at the branch.
Juniper Green and Baberton Mains Community Council councillor Professor Cliff Beevers told the hearing: “It is obviously the elderly and the disabled in our communities that are most affected.”
Unite deputy Scottish secretary Mary Alexander added: “It is a bank 71 per cent owned by the public with a board which is demonstrating zero responsibility to the public.”
Trade unionists will also protest today outside RBS headquarters in Manchester at 12.30pm.
The North West region will be hardest hit in the country with 64 branch closures. The region will lose 430 jobs out of a total of 925.
Unite regional officer John Nolan described the planned closures as “an act of corporate vandalism.”
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