I’ve just been contacted by a local business in Anstruther horrified by the prospect of RBS closing its branch there. It’s the last bank in the East Neuk, and as ever, such closures hit hardest those who are already up against it – small businesses, self-employed people (of which the East Neuk has a much higher than average number), and old people and those who struggle to access transport and the internet. RBS closing is bad for local business and bad for the community.
Of course people are up in arms, and local politicians have wasted no time in jumping on the bandwagon. We all hope that they, and the public reaction against this decision, can get RBS to change its mind.
But what what bothers me about this is that we seem to have no way of anticipating or heading off these decisions which have such a disproportionate impact on small communities. It’s the same when large employers suddenly announce they are closing down or laying off lots of workers. Is it really the case that no one saw it coming? Could Fife Council and those affected not have been able been able to work with the businesses concerned in good time so as to find a more sustainable alternative to closure?
In a letter to the press, I suggest Fife Council could ask crucial local services like post offices, banks and pharmacies to sign a voluntary undertaking that affected communities and the Council will be consulted well before any decision to close a service is made so that avenues for retaining it in some form can be explored. Fife Council could also look at incentives such as business rate reductions or offers of subsidized space in Council estate to make these facilities more sustainable.
Either way, I argue, Fife Council needs a more pro-active economic and community strategy for safeguarding and growing the East Neuk’s business infrastructure. We don’t have to behave like bunnies frozen in the headlights as one local amenity after another shuts up shop.