SMALL businesses, the elderly and the poor will suffer most when NatWest branches close across Oxfordshire next year, it has been warned.

Business leaders in Didcot, Wallingford and Wantage have all said their towns will be poorer without local branches.

NatWest's owner, Royal Bank of Scotland, announced on Friday it would be shutting 197 NatWest branches across the country, including six in Oxfordshire.

Didcot, Wallingford, Wantage, Oxford, Kidlington and Chipping Norton will all close in May or June.

Didcot Chamber of Commerce president, Glyn Hall, said: "Without a doubt, most people would rather keep the branch open.

"The Government keep talking about the pensioners and the poor, and most of those people deal in cash.

"Barclays shut its branch at Milton Park last year and it caused a huge amount of trouble: small shops need to get cash somewhere to put in their tills – this will hit businesses and it will hit people who can't get credit cards."

Mr Hall also warned that hundreds of the 1,100 businesses in the OX11 postcode area are run from home, and he urged people to get in touch with the chamber to have a voice in local business matters.

Wallingford town councillor, Ros Lester, warned that Wallingford, with its ageing population, would suffer disproportionately.

She said: "We don't want to lose any of our banks.

"For businesses paying in cheques, you need to be able to do that as soon as possible, then there are older people and we're not all on computers.

"I don't want to bank like that – I like to go in and talk to someone.

"I'm surprised, especially when hundreds of homes are being built in Wallingford – surely they would want the business?"

At least 15 staff at Oxfordshire's branches are now facing redundancy because of the closures, including two in Didcot, three in Wantage and three in Wallingford.

Wantage and District Chamber of Commerce member, Richard Shepherd, who runs the town's Motorlux car dealership, said he banks with NatWest and went in three or four times a month.

He said: "It's very disappointing, firstly because it's another retail outlet closing, and secondly because the community, and older people especially are going to struggle.

"My mum works in Wantage and she doesn't do online banking.

"Of course there are alternative banks, but people will have to switch accounts."

Wantage's HSBC branch closed last year and is still empty, which Mr Shepherd said was 'a sign of the times'.

He added: "In 10 years time I don't think there will be cash points any more."

While Didcot will still have a number of bank branches following the NatWest closure – including Barclays, Lloyds and Santander – Wantage will have just two, a TSB and a Barclays.

Wallingford will have three: a Lloyds, a Barclays and a Nationwide.

Lloyds also confirmed last week it would be closing its Faringdon branch, the only bank left in the town.

NatWest said footfall in all branches was falling steadily and the majority of its customers were now banking in other ways, mostly using the internet.

In a statement the company said: “We provide our customers with more ways to bank than ever before – customers can choose from a range of digital, face-to-face and local options.

"The way people bank with us has changed radically over the past few years: since 2014, the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40 per cent.

“During the same period mobile transactions have increased by 73 per cent, and in the first half of 2017, there were 1.1 billion mobile and online transactions carried out by our customers: an increase 41 per cent since 2014.”

Oxfordshire NatWest branches will close on the following dates:

• Didcot – June 7

• Wallingford – June 11

• Wantage – May 23