THE latest figures show that the rollout of superfast broadband is proceeding at pace in Scotland, with the target of 100 percent coverage across Scotland by 2021 set to be achieved.

Superfast broadband coverage in the Clackmannanshire Council area prior to the SNP Scottish Government's intervention through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme was at 71.1 percent.

Following Scottish Government action, the percentage of premises with access to fibre broadband in this area is 97.2 percent.

Telecommunications, including broadband, is a responsibility of the UK Government, but here in Scotland the Scottish Government has been heavily investing in the rollout of digital infrastructure given the increasing importance of digital connectivity to communities and businesses across the country.

Whilst there is more to do to reach the 100 percent target, the stated ambition to see 95 percent coverage across the country by the end of this year is on course to be met, with Scotland being the only part of the UK to have such an ambitious target in place.

Contrasting with this good news on broadband rollout, the announcement by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland, of a widespread branch closure programme is very disappointing, and pressure must be put on them to think again. I have already made contact with both banks to express my concerns about these proposals.

Communities in Clackmannanshire will be hit hard if these closures go ahead, with the Bank of Scotland branch in Alva and Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Alloa facing the axe.

The impact on branch employees could also be severe, and I will also be seeking reassurances from the bank over the jobs of the staff affected.

With the Clydesdale Bank withdrawing completely from Clackmannanshire earlier this year, the cumulative loss of banking services should these proposed closures proceed, is simply unacceptable to local communities and businesses.

The worst impact would likely be felt by vulnerable customers and those small businesses which are the backbone of our economy, which rely on the services provided by a local branch presence.

The Scottish Government has called on the UK Government to establish and enforce a guaranteed minimum level of service provision for essential banking services, recognising the importance of continued access to banking for communities and businesses. Given that the taxpayer owns 71 percent of RBS, what better opportunity to implement such a measure and protect services for local communities and businesses?

The UK Government must take the action necessary to halt or reverse this unwelcome trend of branch closures in order to preserve access to essential banking services, and mitigate the impact of this announcement on the individual customers, communities and businesses affected.

It is simply not good enough that many communities across this area should be expected to travel to Stirling, Dunfermline or Falkirk to access banking services – not least from a bank that had to be bailed out by the taxpayer a decade ago and which remains 71 percent owned by them to this day.