Highbridge’s last remaining bank is to shut down this summer following a sharp decline in its number of customers, it has been announced this week.
NatWest’s branch in Huntspill Road, pictured here, will close for the final time on 25th July, ending a long history of banking in the town.
“The number of customers using this branch has dropped by nearly a fifth over the last few years,” a spokeswoman for the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which owns NatWest, told Burnham-On-Sea.com.
“The branch is only open for 14.5 hours a week and there are only 30 customers who regularly use this branch each week.”
The closure ends a long history of banking at the site. The building is part of the Highbridge Heritage Trail and a sign on its side states that it was built as Stuckey’s Bank in 1877.
Burnham and Highbridge Mayor Cllr Martin Cox, right, told Burnham-On-Sea.com this week: “It is a great shame and quite a shock that Highbridge’s last bank is closing. It’s the end of an era for the town.”
“Many people in Highbridge will have used this bank over the years, but times change and the way we use banks is different now to how it used to be. Highbridge still has many shops and businesses, though, and the heart of the town is still alive.”
Highbridge MP Tessa Munt added: “It’s a great shame to hear about the closure of the town’s last bank and a big disappointment given that jobs will be going. We can but hope that someone will take on the property and do something positive with it – it’s a lovely old building in a prominent location.”
The NatWest spokeswoman added: “Over our whole branch network there has been a 30% drop in branch transactions since 2010 as people do their banking when and where it is convenient for them, such as by telephone, in Post Offices and online.”
“We have an arrangement with the local Post Office, which is near the branch, that allows our customers to withdraw cash, check balances and pay bills free of charge.”
She added: “For customers who have basic bank accounts with the Highbridge branch, they will have their restrictions lifted and will be able to use ATMs from other banks in the area. There are four NatWest ATMs within a three mile distance of the branch.”
“The nearest NatWest branch is 1.9 miles away in Burnham-On-Sea and we’re significantly investing in its refurbishment in 2014 to improve the service we offer customers. This will include installing new technology and other improvements that will allow our staff to better serve our customers.”
“We’ve advised staff and we’re writing to our customers to make them aware of the closure and the different ways they can still bank with us. If customers are concerned about how this will impact their banking, they can go into the branch where staff will be happy to discuss the options available.”
The branch closure comes after RBS said in February it planned to slash costs by more than £5 billion over the next three to four years after slumping into the red by £8.2 billion in 2013.
Trade union Unite has accused RBS of “turning its back on local communities” and urged the Government to intervene.
Rob Macgregor, Unite national officer, said: “Taxpayers have a right to be angry that RBS has quietly embarked on a major programme of branch closures. While RBS senior executives get millions of pounds in payouts, there are communities up and down the country being denied access to a local bank.”
Campaign group Move Your Money said RBS has “consistently undermined the interests of its customers and wider society since being bailed out in 2008”.
The group’s campaign director Charlotte Webster said: “It’s no surprise to see the bank let down its customers once again by upping sticks – even where it’s promised not to do so. Banks of this scale just can’t be trusted to take its customers’ needs into account, even when the only reason it’s still around is because of our support.”
Since 2000, NatWest has been a part of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, ranked among the top 10 largest banks in the world by assets.