Since my election to the Scottish Parliament, one of my priorities has been to improve the lives of islanders in the West Scotland region.

Unfortunately, our island communities have been subjected to a sustained decline of essential services over recent months.

A further blow has been struck following the recently announced Bank of Scotland branch closures in Brodick and Millport.

I wrote to Lloyds Banking Group - who own Bank of Scotland - last month expressing my disappointment that residents on Arran and Cumbrae will find themselves cut off from such an essential service next year.

Although I recognise that most people these days use online banking, this will only serve to isolate elderly and vulnerable islanders.

Bank of Scotland’s own reports on the matter have shown that the proportion of people aged 55+ make up 67 per cent of Brodick’s branch visitors, and 75 per cent of those who use the facility in Millport.

This will also significantly impact the islands’ economies. Many island services rely on bank branches to supply notes and coins, which are essential in providing change to customers, particularly foreign tourists.

When replying to my letter, Lloyds Banking Group provided assurances that banking services will be covered by a Community Banker and by local Post Office branches.

I believe these contingencies cannot fully replace what has been lost due to these branch closures. With both internet signals and ferry services remaining inconsistent at best, island residents will find themselves without an important financial safety net, should the worst come to pass. 

I have met Scottish ministers this week in the first of hopefully many productive discussions on this issue.

On the mainland, ScotRail have dashed the hopes of commuters who have been pushing for an express rail service between North Ayrshire and Glasgow.

In their recently proposed 2024 timetable, ScotRail have opted to increase journey times to Glasgow by keeping the four extra stops on the Largs to Glasgow line which were introduced earlier this year, with no concrete plans to implement any express service at peak times. 

There is also no sign of express services to or from Ardrossan.

This has been an especially bitter pill for North Ayrshire residents to swallow, as ScotRail have just committed to providing extra peak services on the Glasgow to Ayr line.

Although I would never wish to take these express services away from those travelling to Ayr, there must be recognition of the need to implement similar services to other communities in Ayrshire.

The Ocean Terminal in Greenock, alongside the numerous local ferry services that run from Ardrossan, Largs, Wemyss Bay and Gourock, indicates that timely and speedier rail journeys are essential for both holiday-goers and island residents to catch their ferries.

This, combined with the massive demand of commuters to have speedier journeys for work, further strengthens the case for an express rail service.

The Scottish Government must listen to the long-standing complaints of commuters, and use their influence to implement meaningful changes to 2024’s timetable.

I will be writing to ScotRail and the Scottish Government on this matter. I also encourage discontented commuters to respond to ScotRail’s timetable consultation, which closes on 20 November 2023.