RBS agree to further engagement with community

I was pleased to meet with the local CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland last week along with their senior management to discuss further the branch closure at Westhill. Also attending the meeting were local business and personal account holders, charity account holders, a Post Office representative as well as representatives from each of our three Ward 13 community councils; Westhill & Elrick, Echt & Skene and Cluny, Midmar & Monymusk.

I called for this meeting after RBS made a public announcement to close local branches including Westhill, Banchory and Stonehaven. The strength of feeling about the closure is clear by the amount of emails and calls we have received on this issue. A high number of residents have signed a petition against the closure, but we must not build up hopes of any reversal of the decision to close these branches and we must take a proactive stance to get the very best alternatives for local customers. At our meeting, it was reiterated by the bank that this is a commercial decision. What we did ask them to do is bring back more in-depth analysis of the figures they first presented to justify the closure and to produce a “Customer and Community Engagement” document in early course so that we can see clearly the statistics behind the closure and their plans for future engagement.

We were able to start a dialogue with them about the alternative banking methods they expect their customers to use. At our meeting, RBS agreed to consult further through community councils as well as other partners including Aberdeenshire Council. These discussions will shape when and where a mobile branch can be located in Westhill. There was a recognition that the mobile branches are not fit for purpose and we were assured that the vans will be upgraded with the technology required to serve customers.

We were also successful in our request that RBS sit down separately with local Post Office managers to ensure that they have the capacity to provide alternative banking facilities rather than take it for granted that all post offices will be able to accommodate the additional transactions.

Many customers are concerned about the lack of privacy at both the local post office and in a mobile branch and I am making enquiries about the possibility of RBS holding local surgeries.

All in all, this meeting was a useful starting point and I hope that we can explore all avenues to secure the very best alternatives over the coming months. When RBS and our community councils have arranged their next meeting, I will provide details here.

As an update, RBS have today provided the following:

  • An average of 49 active customers use the branch every week to undertake transactions
  • Of the 49 customers, 28 of them already use other branches
  • 13 of these customers are Personal/Private banking customers, 36 are Business customers of which many use alternative banking services e.g. online and mobile app.
  • This data has been derived from customer transactions over a 26 week period from October 2016 to January 2017.
  • Locations of free to use ATMs in and around Westhill include the two at the RBS location in the shopping centre, one at Costco, two at Tesco, one at TACO in the Westhill Business Park and one at Westhill Service Station.
  • For local Clubs and Society account holder enquiries, the Account Management Team can be contacted on 0345 600 2230. I know this is a concern for local account holders left with no local facility as residents who run groups such as brownies, guides and indeed community councils are volunteers and use their own time to keep their accounts in order. Any queries should be directed to the above number but we will endeavour to get more answers as questions crop up in further discussions.
  • The “Access to Banking” protocol which RBS adheres to requires them to publish the “Community & Engagement” documents a minimum of 4 weeks prior to closure and they currently work to get this live 6 weeks before closure. However, further to our discussions, the local CEO has requested that this can be looked at given the 6 months notice period.
  • A Business Growth Enabler along with a technical expert (TechXpert) will start to visit all outlying Post Offices in the area during May.

Should council tax be raised this year to fund local services?

Aberdeenshire Council will set its budget for 2017/18 on 9th February.

Recently, I have written about how the Scottish Government made a decision to increase council tax in only bands E-H from April outwith any locally-decided change. The changes made by the Scottish Government in these bands are below:

Band                        Current rate             New rate

E                              £1,394.56                £1,499.15

F                              £1,648.11                £1,854.13

G                             £1,901.67                 £2,234.46

H                             £2,282.00                 £2,795.45

These figures of course exclude any water and sewerage costs which are automatically added to our annual bills, if we are eligible to pay them.

There is an option for Aberdeenshire Council when considering the new year’s budget to raise council tax on all bands A-H by up to 3% over and above the Scottish Government’s imposed rise on E-H bands as above.

Cuts will have to be made anyway as central government funding has decreased. What are your views on Aberdeenshire Council raising council tax to prevent even more cuts in services?


WANTED: Your views on how Aberdeenshire budget is spent

Each year, Aberdeenshire Council carries out a consultation on budget plans.

It is an essential part of local democracy, ensuring that the voice of communities comes through in any and all budget setting decisions.

This year, we have launched a brand new approach, in order to try to simplify and illustrate the challenges faced.

In place of traditional surveys and written text, the team have developed a suite of infographics, each of which paints a different picture of a different part of council budget setting. For example, there is a section on the pressures that councils are under, one which focuses on council tax, and one which lays out some of the future opportunities.

Attached to each infographic is a short set of questions, in some cases just two questions, to give people the opportunity to make their voices heard.

The engagement process is open now and will close at the start of January, giving enough time for the results to be passed to councillors who, in turn, will use them to inform their decision making for the coming financial year.


  • All the infographics and associated questions can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/budgetengagement
  • Surveys are all open now and will close on 3rd January.
  • Reports will be submitted to elected members in January to give them time to consider all views in time for the budget setting in February.
  • The 7 topics are as follows: Pressures on our services; Investing in our communities; Increasing efficiency; Identifying savings; Council Tax; Income generation; The future of sports and cultural services in Aberdeenshire

The new approach has been taken to allow people have their views on as many topics as they feel passionate about. So views on all seven areas are being sought, however those with a particularly strong opinion on a particular subject can ensure that they get that message across loud and clear.

The infographics themselves are also being issued for use in community forums and discussions right across Aberdeenshire, to make sure everyone gets the chance to participate.

Council Co-leader Cllr Richard Thomson said: “It is important for us to embark upon our budget setting discussions with our eyes open. To get a feel for what people in our communities want and need from us, and to make sure they feel empowered to know what they can do for themselves. We want to maintain high quality public services while at the same time making sure we are as efficient as possible. We also want to minimise the impact any reductions have on residents and service-users.

“The views you share will help us as we come together as a council to debate how to make the best use of the funding available to us, and we value the feedback.”

Co-leader Cllr Alison Evison said: “Aberdeenshire Council is embarking upon a year of change and challenge. Local elections coming up will change not only priorities but faces around the chamber. Some significant projects will be delivered this year and others will be progressed. Ensuring we have had robust and extensive consultation will play a part in everything that we do.

“I encourage people across Aberdeenshire to let us know what their views are and look forward to getting the results.”

All the infographics and attached questions can be found at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/budgetengagement


Free pension advice


South West Aberdeenshire Citizens Advice Bureau, based in Westhill, is now offering new guidance on pensions. The move follows new pension freedom rules which came in to effect on April 6th.

Specialist Irene Smith is offering face-to-face appointments which can be booked directly.

Bureau manager Eveline Crossan said “We will be offering information and guidance for people aged 50 or over who want to explore their options.

“We are also working in partnership with Kincardine and Mearns CAB at Stonehaven and Gordon Rural Action at Huntly to offer services locally, as well as using our own CAB outreach locations in Banchory, Aboyne, Alford, Ballater, Braemar, Strathdon and Tarland.”

For an appointment contact Ms Smith on 01224 747714

How would you spend it?


Do you think Aberdeenshire Council spends too large a proportion of its budget on Education or Corporate Services? Perhaps you would like to see more spent on Housing & Social Work? What consequences would changes to these spending priorities have for your community?

We would like you to support our budget setting for 2014 and beyond and tell us what you think our priorities should be.

Local authorities across Scotland and the UK face difficult choices about how to balance budgets with reductions in public spending from the Scottish and UK Government. We have decisions to make for the future and want to understand what people of all ages who live, work, or visit Aberdeenshire want us to spend money on.

This interactive budget simulator gives you the chance to tell us how you’d like us to prioritise spending across four themes. You can increase, decrease or make no changes to each service. But can you get the budget to balance?

The consultation only covers day-to-day running costs like the money we spend on staffing, leisure and libraries, social care, roads and winter gritting or waste. It does not cover capital budgets such as new buildings or transport infrastructure. It also does not include council tax as this has been frozen in Scotland over recent years.

This is one tool that will be used alongside our face to face engagement events taking place across Aberdeenshire over October and November. The feedback we receive will be pulled into a report and posted on our website. It will also be used to inform next year’s budget which councillors will consider in February 2014.

You can access the budget simulator here:


Fairer Tax Campaign

Sir Robert Smith MP and Cllr Iris Walker join the Fairer Tax campaigners in Westhill

Sir Robert Smith MP and Cllr Iris Walker join the Fairer Tax campaigners in Westhill

It was great to be out on a crisp, sunny morning campaigning again – for fairer taxes.

The Liberal Democrats believe that everyone should pay their fair share of tax.

We want to make the super-rich pay their fair share. Currently it’s too easy for the super-rich to dodge paying their fair share of tax. We’re campaigning to close these loopholes and introduce a new “mansion tax” on the value of homes over £2m. This would affect less than 0.1% of the population but would raise nearly £2bn.

We want to lower taxes for the average worker. By raising the level at which you start paying tax, we can deliver a tax cut worth nearly £500 to every average worker in the country and make sure that everyone’s hard work is fairly rewarded.

If we delivered a leaflet through your door today or you receive one in the next week or so, please join the campaign by signing and returning the petition. If you haven’t received one, please get in touch or you can sign here:


International Credit Union Day 2012

Credit unions across Britain and around the world are celebrating International Credit Union Day today, the 18th October. Individual credit unions across the country will be holding celebrations and special promotions. It is also a day to thank the thousands of volunteers who give up their time to help credit union members in their communities and workplaces.

To find out more about credit unions locally go to:


New freedoms for Credit Unions welcomed

Over recent weeks the media has highlighted  a morally-bankrupt lending industry with pay-day loan companies being accused of  mis-selling and low-earners being charged 150% more for household goods on the high street.  Recent survey results from Shelter have shown that over 1 million people have taken out a pay-day loan to help pay their mortgage or rent in the last 12 months.

I have long been an advocate of credit unions. Credit unions have been promoted for many years within  NHS, Police and emergency services staff rooms as they offer low cost loans whilst encouraging savings to grow at the same time. Any profit stays within the organisation and the credit unions are regulated by the FSA meaning the first £85,000 of savings are safe should they fail.

The main changes just announced will mean savers and borrowers stand to gain as credit unions can now offer a viable alternative to banks. It will now be easier to become a member as joining rules are being relaxed, i.e. membership will not be restricted to certain occupations as mentioned above. Membership will no longer be limited to individuals but open to community groups, social clubs and local authorities. Credit unions will now be able to pay interest on savings rather than a dividend linked to annual performance and we should see these rates being published on best-buy tables making it easier for members to compare their credit union with banks and building societies.

Credit unions have not taken off in a big way in the UK in contrast to being a huge success in countries such as Australia, Ireland and the United States. I think if local groups and agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing associations and local authorities could work in partnership with credit unions to promote their services, we could see more of their branches open in the high street and outreach services provided in the more rural areas. Judging by the local statistics for people currently accessing debt and money advice, they would get a huge welcome.