A BANKING giant has been accused of abandoning the Highlands as it prepares to close 10 branches in the region.
Royal Bank of Scotland is to shut the only banks in many rural communities between May and June next year, forcing people to travel 40 miles to their nearest branches.
As part of an exodus across Scotland which will see 62 banks close and the loss of 165 jobs, branches from Strathspey to Wick will shut their doors.
In the Highlands, Inverness Queensgate, Nairn, Beauly, Aviemore, Grantown, Tain, Tongue, Wick, Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig all face closure in what has been said will "devastate local communities".
Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford pointed out that RBS is taxpayer funded and pledged to fight against the closures.
"The argument that these branches are not well used is far from reality," he said.
"Without these branches the only option is for customers to travel long distances to access these personal and business services.
"Although RBS rightly has operational independence, the state retains a majority stake in RBS.
"I have raised the matter in parliament and will be pushing for a debate on the impact of rural bank closures.
"I am also writing to the chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, asking for the company to re-consider these plans."
This comes just months after Bank of Scotland closed seven branches across the Highlands - in Fortrose, Beauly, Kingussie, Dornoch, Lairg, Beauly and Bonar Bridge.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes also accused banks of abandoning and failing rural customers.
"RBS is just the latest bank to abandon the Highlands and forget the local communities who depend on their services," she said.
"Banks face choices as to where they focus their activities and it is clear by the waves of closures across the Highlands that national banks are failing rural customers and businesses in the Highlands.
"It is not just exceptionally poor customer service for loyal customers who have been with that bank sometimes for decades. It is a dereliction of responsibility.
"Many of us now use online banking, whether on the internet or by phone apps, but the local branch is still very important for those who depend on physically visiting the local branch, such as elderly customers or businesses depositing cash.
"I have already spoken with senior representatives at RBS and I will further express my grave concerns about customers accessing banking services."
Union Unite Scotland’s regional officer Lynn Turner accused RBS of putting directors’ profits before customers.
"This is not the Royal Bank for Scotland, it’s the Royal Bank for its top directors and executives filling their boots while they devastate local communities with bank closures and destroy hundreds of quality jobs," she said.
RBS has offered alternatives such as mobile banks and services available in post offices.
A spokesman said: "As customers change the way they bank with us, we must change the way that we serve them and this means that some branches will have to close.
"Closing a branch is a decision we take very seriously.
"We know it can affect people in the local area and we’ll always work hard to guide you through the changes and find the best way to serve you from now on."
Planned Highland closures:
Nairn - June 21
Aviemore - May 31
Beauly - June 6
Grantown - June 11
Inverness Queensgate business branch - June 27
Tain - June 20
Tongue - June 14
Wick - May 14
Kyle - June 26
Mallaig - May 17