Business chiefs have slammed Royal Bank of Scotland over its plans to close a quarter of its branch network and axe nearly 700 jobs.
REVEALED: Which Natwest and RBS branches are set to close
The decision by the state-backed lender will see a total of 62 RBS branches and 197 NatWest outlets closed by mid 2018, with 1,000 staff affected.
It leaves RBS with just 744 branches in the UK.
RBS, still 72 per cent owned by the taxpayer, hopes to limit the number of redundancies to 680 by redeploying the remaining staff.
The bank is the third this week to announce branch closures and job cuts, following Lloyds and Yorkshire Building Society.
Justifying the move, the lender said more people are choosing to bank online or on mobile.
Mike Cherry, chairman of the Lancashire-based Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Bank branches are still vital to local economies up and down the country.
“Many local business communities will be disappointed to hear they are losing their bank branch.
“Almost all of our members are using online banking. However, small firms still hugely value the in-person support they receive at branches, particularly when it comes to completing complex transactions and making big financial decisions.
“In areas of the country still blighted by poor broadband, accessing online banking is a challenge.”
Mr Cherry added: “What’s critical is that small business owners that rely on bank branches are provided with suitable alternatives well before closures happen.
“What we can’t have is banks shutting branches on a whim, especially at a time when plans are afoot that may diminish our cash machine network in future.
“Access to cash is a big issue here. “Cash is still critical to trade in thousands of our towns and villages.”