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Future of 33 local First Trust staff unclear after closure announcement

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Future of 33 local First Trust staff unclear after closure announcement thumbnailClosing: First Trust Bank, Cookstown.

DESPITE an announcement by First Trust Bank that three local branches will close in coming months, the future of the branches' staff remains unclear.

The bank has announced plans to close 15 branches across Northern Ireland with branches in Armagh, Cookstown and Magherafelt all earmarked for closure.

Cookstown will lose its First Trust Bank branch, which employs 12 staff, on 30th June.

The Armagh branch, with 13 staff, is set to close on 7th July, while the Magherafelt branch, which employs eight people, will close on 28th July.

Speaking to the Courier about the future of its staff, a spokesperson for the bank remained coy about the prospect of job losses.

"We have entered into consultation with the Financial Services Union and this is an ongoing process," said the spokesperson.

"The bank's existing voluntary severance programme will be extended to impacted staff and there will also be opportunities for redeployment within the new retail model for First Trust Bank."

When the branches do close, customers with accounts in Armagh and Cookstown will transfer to the Dungannon branch. Those who have accounts in Magherafelt will transfer to Ballymena.

Despite this change a spokesperson for the bank confirmed that the operation of bank accounts will not be impacted as account numbers and sort codes will remain the same.

The Bank were also keen to note that these closure have nothing to do with the potential sale of shares in its parent company, AIB, by the Irish government.

"This decision is the result of an 18-month strategic review of our business to ensure that we have a sustainable business model into the future to best serve the needs of our customers, our staff and the wider Northern Ireland economy."

The announcement has been roundly criticised by the Federation of Small Businesses and the Financial Services Union.

Locally, Mid-Ulster District Council has also been critical of the decision.

At a meeting of the Council, the Chair, Councillor Trevor Wilson expressed his concern.

"The news that these closures will be happening is a blow to all staff, to the local economy and to our high street," he said.

"Banks have become part of the high street and the closure of these two branches in two of our major towns is a blow.

"They say that more people are accessing their banking online but equally in an area with poor broadband speeds and reliability that is not always easy or possible.

"I am proposing that we write to the bank seeking an urgent meeting to discuss these closures."

Councillor Kenneth Reid welcomed these comments and sought clarification on the future of the towns' ATMs.

"The decision has undoubtedly already been made and we will most likely be unable to overturn it," he said.

"However, I think it is important that the First Trust Bank does not do what they have done before and leave the hole in the wall there for a few months before withdrawing it.

"We need to make sure they maintain the supply of money in the hole in the wall for the foreseeable future."

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