SNP's Ian Blackford in 'positive' RBS branch closure talks

Image caption,
Ian Blackford told BBC Scotland he was hopeful of a breakthrough over branch closures

The SNP's Westminster leader has said he expects a "positive" outcome following talks with RBS officials over plans to close dozens of bank branches.

Ian Blackford said "good progress" had been made in discussions, and he was hopeful a breakthrough could be found.

It comes after RBS revealed plans to close 62 Scottish branches, including some in remote and rural communities.

Last month senior officials from the bank told a Westminster committee that they stood by the move.

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

The bank declined to comment on Mr Blackford's position.

Mr Blackford, who is MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, told the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme that he had had a number of conversations and meetings with Royal Bank of Scotland over the last few weeks.

He said he was "pleased to say that good progress has been made and I expect a positive announcement".

'Positive engagement'

He continued: "I have been encouraged by the positive nature of the talks that we have 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.

"We have had very positive engagement."

He added: "I know that others have been involved as well - for example the Scottish (affairs) select committee.

"We are at the stage that in principle that we recognise that something has to be done in order to keep a number of bank branches open, but I want to wait until we are in a position that a formal announcement can be made."

Committee 'undermined'

Speaking on the same programme, Conservative MP Colin Clark, whose Gordon constituency is set to lose several RBS branches, accused Mr Blackford of "undermining" the work of the all-party Scottish affairs select committee.

He added: "It would appear that Ian Blackford is trying the take the headlines for this, whilst that committee has taken the lead on it.

"It is a bit of a reflection on Ian Blackford's security of his leadership."

Image source, Reuters

Labour's shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird, said there should be "no back room deals done with RBS".

She added: "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."

"The integrity of the select committee should not be undermined and if RBS is rethinking its position on closures then Ross McEwan (RBS chief executive) should come before the select committee and explain that, openly and transparently in the proper democratic fashion."

On the Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Mr Blackford was also asked about the SNP deputy leader role which was vacated on Saturday by Angus Robertson who announced he was stepping down.

The party's Westminster leader refused to be drawn on whether he would put himself forward for the job.

"What I'll be doing this week is getting back to my job in Westminster, leading the SNP group," he said.

"Of course I will reflect with colleagues over the coming days, but I am certainly content with the job that I have at the moment and it's one that I am very privileged to do."