NatWest pledged five years ago it wouldn't close the last bank in town. Now villagers have been told the branch shuts in September

When the last bank closes, local shops quickly go out of business

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The Independent Online

Have you ever been to Knott End-on-Sea, a small village in Lancashire not far from Fleetwood? It’s got a decent-looking cafe which serves up a generous all-day breakfast for £6.90 and its own pub, the Bourne Arms. There’s a golf club and a library and a range of shops. And, crucially, it has a bank.

For a small local community of 5,000 like Knott End, a bank is essential. Residents and, in particular, small businesses in the area, rely on the bank. Experience has shown that in every village or town across the country where the last bank has closed down, local shops have quickly followed.

So villagers are up-in-arms at news that the bank, a branch of state-owned NatWest, will close its doors for ever on 15 September. The bank says: “We are working to ensure there are a number of alternative ways for people in the area to continue to bank with us.”

It is keeping an ATM in the area and has arranged for local to use facilities at the local Post Office. But, ironically, five years ago the branch was featured in a NatWest TV ad that promised to keep branches open if they were the last in town.

It went back on that pledge in April 2014 when it gave notice to 14 last banks in town that it was abandoning them. There’ll no doubt be more as RBS, which owns the NatWest brand, cuts costs and chases profits.

Bank bosses hosted their annual general meeting in Edinburgh on Tuesday.  Chief executive Ross McEwan told shareholders that the bank is on track to become a low-risk, profitable UK-focused bank by 2019, some 11 years after it was bailed out by the taxpayer.

He’s currently busy, he reported, running down the non-core parts of the bank, dealing with conduct charges and fines, and focusing on the core business but next plans to turn the bank into the best in the UK for customer service.

Those still facing problems because of its major computer meltdown last week will have a quiet laugh at that, as will those villagers in Knott End fighting the branch closure.

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