Confusion at the Royal Bank of Scotland about the provision of banking services on Barra was laid bare in a letter to Alasdair Allan MSP made public yesterday (Monday December 18th).

In the letter. the RBS CEO, Personal and Business Banking, Mr Les Matheson said he was “sorry to learn of your disappointment at our decision to close the Castlebay, Isle of Barra branch.”

Quite how RBS expected a joyful welcome for the closure of the Island’s only bank is not explained.

He goes on to state: “We have considered this decision very carefully and while we will not be reversing it, I hope to explain in more detail how we arrived at this conclusion and the range of alternatives available once the branch closes.”

So that’s it. According to RBS, nothing anyone can do will change its corporate mind. Remember, this is a bank that we all paid billions of £s to rescue from the consequences of its own mismanagement, and which is still publicly owned.

He repeats all the previous material displayed at the time of the original announcement. He insists that “Customers can choose from a range of digital, face –to-face and local options.”

And then adds “what our customers want and need determines the shape of the bank.”

Unless the customers actually want to have the bank stay open, that is.

He insists on the earlier RBS claim that only 11 customers visit the branch every week nowadays – which amounts to fewer than three each day the bank is open. Whether this is accurate, local readers can judge for themselves.

He insists that all relevant banking business can be done through the local post office – including checking balances, depositing cash and cheques, and withdrawing cash. He also says that business customers can obtain change from the post office.  He also points out the 24-hour telephone banking is also available from RBS.

Mr Matheson also outlines plans for a mobile banking service to be provided in Barra. He says timetables will be available soon. If the mobile bank from Lochboisdale is used, it would be available – subject to weather conditions and ferry services – only on Mondays and Fridays and the staff involved would spend almost half each working day in transit back and forth.

The same letter – written on December 15th – goes on to state that the ATM network is being used less and less and so “regrettably, we won’t be retaining the ATM once the branch is closed. I am sorry for the inconvenience this will cause. However, I hope your constituents will be able to make use of the alternatives that are available to them, via the mobile bank and Post Office.” There’s no mention of the thousands of visitors to the Island or the many hours each week when these services are unavailable.

Within hours of this letter being made public by Mr Allan yesterday, RBS contradicted itself and said the ATM would NOT be closing. The bank told Mr Allan this statement was “a mistake”.   He responded: ““I am pleased to hear that the latest letter is an error. The Royal Bank of Scotland has now had a couple of different positions on this issue since the closure was announced. The fact that they are sending out inaccurate information does suggest they are not properly taking onboard community concerns.”

RBS have pledged to arrange a meeting between Mr Allan and Ben Rose, the bank’s public affairs manager to “discuss in more detail the services we can offer your constituents after the Castlebay, Isle of Barra, branch closes next year.”  So he won’t be discussing whether the bank branch will close, only how!

(This report replaces those posted yesterday as the saga unfolded)

(The national petition against the closure reached 9,847 by 8am today but only a trickle of new supporters are now joining each day)