PLANS by RBS to close 62 branches in Scotland with the loss of 158 jobs have brought a wave of angry protests with union leaders calling it a “catastrophe” for staff and communities and demanding the the decision is reversed.

The bank — 72 per cent owned by the taxpayer — says the move has been driven by the fact that more people are choosing to bank online or on mobile phones.

But both the Scottish and UK Governments will seek talks with RBS to try to soften the blow or head off closures in the worst-hit communities.

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Scottish Business Minister Paul Wheelhouse has written to the Treasury at Westminster, expressing his deep concern at the announcement.

“Today’s announcement of a further 62 branch closures, coming as they do after previous tranches of branch closures affecting rural and urban Scotland, will leave many communities without ready access to essential day-to-day banking services and is a genuine body blow to our high streets,” he wrote.

“These cuts affect some of our most remote rural communities, and many market towns in rural areas are also losing their branch, with potentially significant impacts on business customers, local personal customers and visitors, with the worst impact felt by vulnerable customers and those small businesses, who are the backbone of the economy, who rely on the services provided by a physical, local branch presence.”

He added: “I am therefore writing to you, in advance of a proposed discussion, to ask: what will the UK Government do to halt or reverse the continuing trend of branch closures; to preserve access to essential banking services; and to mitigate the impact of this announcement on the individual customers, communities and businesses affected?”

In a statement RBS gave its reasons for closures, saying: “More and more customers are choosing to do their everyday banking online or on mobile. Since 2014 the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40 per cent and mobile transactions have increased by 73 per cent ... More than five million customers now use our mobile banking app and one in five only bank with us digitally.

“As customers continue to change the way they bank with us, we must change the way we serve them, so we are investing in our more popular branches and shaping our network, replacing traditional bricks-and-mortar branches with alternative ways to bank ... so that we can reach even more customers.”

RBS also plans to close 197 NatWest branches in England and Wales by mid-2018, resulting in a total of 680 job losses across the two brands. It will seek to make any redundancies voluntary.

The union Unite Scotland condemned the closures, with deputy secretary Mary Alexander highlighting the many groups that will be affected and urged the Scottish Government to act.

“RBS has forgotten about the many people in food-bank Scotland who cannot afford to take the bus to their nearest banking facility, or parents with small children without access to a car,” she said.

“Nor do they care much about the elderly or those in poor health who cannot travel any distance to their nearest branch.”

“The Scottish Government cannot stand by and watch this catastrophe develop.”

The SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on RBS to “think again” and outlined his intention to meet with the bank’s chief executive.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said: “RBS must think again. This devastates their network in many rural areas and it is simply not acceptable. The list hits small towns and remote locations — including the area I represent — particularly badly.

“These decisions must be raised with the UK Government at the earliest opportunity in their role as a major shareholder. In addition, I am seeking an urgent meeting with RBS Chief Executive, Ross McEwan.”

Even Tory Scottish Secretary David Mundell joined in the condemnation, pointing out that some of the branches being closed were a “lifeline” for some of the communities concerned.

“This is a serious issue for the communities they serve,” he said. “While usage of branches may have dropped, they are still a lifeline for many people, especially in rural areas. I’ll be seeking a meeting with the senior leadership of RBS to discuss these closures as a matter of urgency.”

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convenor of the Federation of Small Businesses, said it created problems for some small, rural businesses in.

“Ultimately, these changes will make it more difficult to run a business in much of Scotland — including many deprived communities and tourism hotspots.

“While many small businesses use online banking, that doesn’t mean they don’t handle cash, and therefore need to visit a branch. Further, many of the branches under threat are in parts of the country with particularly poor mobile and broadband coverage, a fact to which RBS seems to be paying scant regard. It is time for the big banks to come clean regarding their long-term plans.”