SNP’s Ian Blackford ‘very close’ to a deal with RBS on reprieve from closures

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The SNP’s Westminster leader has said he is “very close” to reaching a deal with RBS bosses that could see some closure-threatened banks given a reprieve.

Ian Blackford MP has been in talks with the state-owned bank after it announced it was shutting 62 branches north of the border as part of wider closure plans.

RBS has insisted it is responding to changes in customer behaviour, including a rise in digital banking.

But the branches under threat include some in remote and rural communities, where there is only one bank.

Mr Blackford told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland: “Good progress has been made and I expect a positive announcement.”

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said many of the affected branches provided “vital” local services, as he accused the Tory Government of “failing to lift a finger” to save them.

He resorted to “bypassing” the Prime Minister and talking directly to RBS chiefs about the plans, in a bid to ensure community concerns are heard.

Ian Blackford: “I’ve had a number of conversations and meetings with the Royal Bank of Scotland over the last few weeks.

“Really what I’ve tried to put across and what other colleagues have tried to put across is the very real threat to a number of communities, in particular where they have been talking about closing the last bank in town.

“And I’ve been encouraged by the the positive nature of the talks we’ve been having. These talks are ongoing, but I hope that we are very close to a resolution that can give some hope to a number of communities that Royal Bank of Scotland branches can remain open.”

He added: “We’re at the stage that in principle we recognise that something has to be done in order to keep a number of bank branches open.”

But Labour and the Tories claimed it was the all-party Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster – chaired by Pete Wishart of the SNP – that had been leading on the issue

Colin Clark, the Conservative MP for Gordon, said: “Ian Blackford seems to be undermining the work the committee has done by trying to get the headline on it.”

Meanwhile Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird hit out, saying: “I am astounded that Ian Blackford is cutting across a live investigation being undertaken by the Scottish Select Committee into RBS and its proposals to close vital high-street bank branches.

“There should be no back room deals done with RBS and I hope that is not precisely what Peter Wishart, who is chair of the committee, and Ian Blackford are doing.”

Ms Laird added: “The cross-party select committee is in the process of trying to bring RBS chief executive Ross McEwan to appear before it – which so far he has refused to do.

“These reports smack of interference by Wishart and Blackford to ensure Ross McEwan doesn’t give evidence to the committee.

“And worse for the communities involved, it suggests they are attempting to ‘cherry-pick’ the branches which remain open.”

She stated: “While we are frustrated at the Tory Government’s lack of action, it is still not right that two SNP MPs get to decide which branches in which communities get to stay open.”

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