Post Office Network

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 28th June 2000.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 3:30 pm, 28th June 2000

I welcome the elements in the statement which give a firmer commitment to both public subsidy and the preservation of the network, and identify useful new sources of income generation. A similarly comprehensive approach adopted 20 years ago at the beginning of Conservative rule might have prevented the closure of many of the 4,000 branches which have closed. How much of the lost £400 million income in 2003 will now be replaced by a combination of subsidy and new sources of income? I appreciate that the Secretary of State cannot identify the subsidy sum before the public expenditure review, but what will be the gap in the cash flow as a result of those two combined elements?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman be more specific about his commitment to the preservation of the network? He said that there will be a guarantee for 10,000 sub-post offices. What will be the status of the other 8,000, many of which are loss-making? In particular, what is the status of those in urban areas, which have just been referred to? The right hon. Gentleman will have discovered in Tottenham last week that there is a lot of sensitivity about the closure of sub-post offices. Clearly, many of those will be modernised, but of those that are not, how many are likely to shut, and what provisions are there for preventing the closure of sub-post offices in inner-city areas?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman say more about what is meant by a jointly owned universal bank? What is the relative shareholding of the Government and the private banks? What will happen if a Barclays cash machine is installed in a sub-post office as part of the joint project? Will customers pay Barclays charges, which, as he knows, the bank is determined to impose in defiance of the anti-cartel provision of the Competition Act 1998?

Finally, I welcome the internet provision, particularly taking advantage of the logistics opportunities of the Post Office. But how will internet be provided in the many remote areas where there are no ISDN lines? How will the internet be universally available for the post office network?