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Royal Bank of Scotland is closing a quarter of its UK branches and cutting 680 jobs as part of a dramatic reduction of its presence on the British high street.

The closures will affect 259 branches in total — 62 RBS and 197 NatWest — RBS said on Friday, leaving it with 744 branches across the UK.

It is the second time in nine months that the majority government-owned bank has announced branch closures as it attempts to cut costs and boost profits. In March, it said it was closing 158 local bank branches, following 191 closures over the previous two years.

Together with the branch closures announced on Friday, RBS will have cut more than one-third of its UK branch network since the start of the 2017.

RBS cited customers’ move to online banking as the main reason for the closures.

“Since 2014 the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40 per cent and mobile transactions have increased by 73 per cent over the same period. Over 5m customers now use our mobile banking app and one in five only bank with us digitally,” said RBS.

Rob MacGregor, national officer at Unite, the union which represents RBS staff, said the move would “decimate” RBS’s high-street network and could “mark the end of branch network banking”. He called on the government to use its 71 per cent stake in RBS to block the cuts.

“Why is the government signing off this alarming branch closure programme?” said Mr MacGregor. “This British-taxpayer funded bank should be concentrating on investing in jobs here in the UK, rather than cutting them wholesale.”

Banks across Europe are stepping up their moves to cut branches as they seek to reduce costs and respond to changing behaviour by customers. Earlier this week France’s Société Générale announced plans to cut 300 of its 2,000 branches over the next three years.

RBS has been engaged in a drastic restructuring for almost a decade since being bailed out by the government during the financial crisis. This week RBS told staff that it had closed the “bad bank” created to handle some £300bn of toxic assets, having racked up more than £50bn of operating losses from the unit over nine years.

Ross McEwan, chief executive, has promised the bank will return to profitability next year after a decade of losses. This would help the government achieve its aim of selling part of its stake in the lender by March 2019.

This week, RBS scraped through the Bank of England’s annual stress tests without needing to raise capital, giving analysts hope that next year it will be able to pay its first dividend since the crisis.

The bank has shrunk its balance sheet to £752bn, down from £2.4tn at the peak in 2008 — more than the UK’s gross domestic product — while withdrawing from 34 of 50 countries and shedding more than two-thirds of its 225,000 staff.

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