ROYAL Bank of Scotland has come under renewed political pressure to reverse its controversial branch closure programme after the publicly backed institution made its first annual profit in a decade.

The bank, which is 70 per cent owned by UK taxpayers, faced a public outcry after swinging the axe on a further 62 branches in December, more than one-third of its total in Scotland. Royal Bank cited the growing use of digital banking as the reason behind the move, which would lead to the loss of nearly 160 jobs. It later handed a stay of execution to 10 of those branches.

Now both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for the closures to be scrapped entirely after the bank announced a profit of £752 million for 2017.

Scott Wright: Progress, but RBS still has to confront the past

It is the first annual profit the bank has made since before it received a £45 billion public bailout at the height of the financial crisis and came on the same day it emerged boss Ross McEwan received a remuneration package worth £3.49m last year.

Mr McEwan, who was paid a basic salary of £1m, received benefits including travel assistance of £67,006 in connection with company business. His pay package included relocation expenses of £17,065, a flight allowance and assistance with tax return preparation, and funds towards home security arrangements.

The bank’s results came after a probe commissioned by the City watchdog revealed on Tuesday further examples of shocking treatment of customers by the institution’s controversial Global Restructuring Group, a business turnaround unit.

The report, published by the Treasury Committee, disclosed internal communications highlighting threats of bankruptcy, jokes about a “fire sale” of a customer’s assets, and an email from a member of staff which mimicked a foreign national.

Trade union Unite staged demonstrations outside a host of Royal Bank branches demanding that the closures are stopped.

Labour MP Lesley Laird, shadow secretary state of Scotland, said she was concerned the benefits of the bank’s profits have not “filtered down to customers”.

Ms Laird said: “It is increasingly clear the taxpayers who bailed the bank out to the tune of £45bn are at the bottom of their list of priorities. In light of these profits, people will be increasingly angry that RBS plan to go ahead with branch closures. They should reverse these plans and keep the branches open.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said the bank’s first profit in 10 years gives it the chance to “think again about its policy of closures”.

Ms Jardine added: “The RBS bail-out was taxpayer funded and so surely those tax payers in rural areas, about to lose their branches, deserve something back in return. Rural communities must not be left behind.”

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, also urged the bank to rethink the closures. He said: “Almost all of our members bank online. But they hugely value in-person support when it comes to opening new accounts, discussing finance options and getting to grips with digital banking.”

Scott Wright: Progress, but RBS still has to confront the past

Mr McEwan was asked during a media briefing whether, in light of the profits, he had a message for the bank’s customers in rural areas whose branches have earmarked for closure.

He replied: “We have some sympathy for customers who are where the branches have closed down, but we have put in place a series of mobile vans who are getting into over 600 communities every week to help these customers out. We have also got the Post Office [providing services].

“But you are seeing massive change in the way customers behave – [a] 36 per cent reduction in branch network transactions over a three-year period of time has to be responded to.”