IT is one of the Highland's most popular beauty spots and a mecca for golfers from across the world.

Dornoch, on the Moray Firth, welcomes thousands of visitors each year, drawn to its historic charm and the quality of the links nearby, not least Championship course at Royal Dornoch.

It relies on a tourist economy, bustling in the summer, and slumbering in winter but throughout the year both tourists and locals alike rely on the town for services in an otherwise isolated area.

However, Dornoch has now been highlighted in a report by the the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), as a banking blackspot with no major branches keeping a presence in the town after the Bank of Scotland pulled up the drawbridge two years ago. 

The FSB now forecasts the number of branches across the country will soon drop below 800, compared to 1,123 branches in 2013. It is also estimated around 30 cash machines in Scotland close each month.


The stunning Dornoch coast

Independent Councillor Jim McGillvray said that the loss of the Dornoch's bank had been felt across the community, from businesses to the elderly.

He said: "The nearest bank is now in Golspie, twelve miles away, and the other is in Tain - ten miles away.

"For a start, it was a major employer and there was a steady flow of young people moving through the bank and into a career in finance. These were all local jobs and opportunities which have now gone.

"And it's pretty inconvenient if you want to drop or pick up cash. Although the Post Office is doing their job, it's not the same as going into your local bank branch and it's much more hassle."

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He added: "My daughter worked at the bank and said that £1m would go through the cashpoint during the busy weeks. We are a tourist economy and very busy during the summer, but not so busy during the winter."

The town, which sits on the hugely successful North Coast 500  tourist trail, has now been left with a 'free to use' ATM in the local convenience store, which shuts at ten, and a cashback service at its general store, while the local Post Office offers a full banking service.

The Bank of Scotland Mobile Branch also calls at the local retail park, although times are limited.

Mr McGillvray said that businesses which rely on cash-in-hand, such as charities, have been the most affected, but that everyone has felt the pinch at some point.

The councillor added: "There's a bank van, but it's not convenient for everyone, and it's just more difficult."


Royal Dornoch is a huge draw for golfers

The FSB's report - Transforming Towns - warns that it is now time for big banks to deliver on their promise of shared banking hubs, especially in the largest branch-less towns, such as Lochgelly in Fife and Gourock in Inverclyde.

Mr McGillvray said that he and his colleagues on the Highland council had tried this approach, but these discussions lead nowhere.

Mr McGillvray said: "When Clydesdale bank pulled out of the area we asked if the hub idea was possible, but they said it was too difficult to integrate their computer systems.

"I also met with representatives from Handelsbanken, the Swedish bank, who have a reputation for maintaining branches and have opened up in Inverness.

"But Dornoch was a step too far for them."

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Brian Sloan, Age Scotland’s Chief Executive said that it is often elderly people who are left struggling by bank closures.

He said: : “It’s extremely disappointing to see banks continuing to close branches at an alarming rate, with towns such as Dornoch left with no bank at all.

“Older people often tell us that they prefer a face-to-face service, and rely on physical branches to manage their money.

 “It’s clear that many banks are putting their profits ahead of serving their customers. We would urge them to consider creative solutions, such as shared branches with several banks dividing the costs of staff and premises between them.”


However, the FSB's report considers the withdrawal of banks a symptom of a greater malaise in Scotland's towns, where business and industry are seen to be in retreat.

The report calls for greater investment in all Scotland 479 local centres, places such as Cumnock and Patna in East Ayrshire where dilapidated shopfronts blight the high street and economic activity is stagnant.

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The FSB reckons that £90m investment is needed to each year for a decade  bring about an urban rejuvenation, find new uses for vacant lots and offer new services to the hundreds of thousands who call these towns home.