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 Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry 3:30 pm, 28th June 2000

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, had our comprehensive approach been adopted some 20 years ago, the network would be in a far stronger condition than it is at present.

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of important questions. On the savings that will come from the movement towards ACT, clearly there will be an element of financial support to the network, which will be announced as part of the comprehensive spending review. We are confident that, coupled with the new areas in which the post office network will be able to develop—we mentioned three in particular on the basis of the PIU report—if there is any shortfall in the sums coming into the network, it can be made up by the new activities into which the post offices will be able to enter.

The hon. Gentleman made the point that some 10,000 post offices will be covered by the commitment that we have given to maintain the rural network. We calculate that probably 2,000 more will come within the category of urban deprived. The other areas will benefit from the new developments to which I have referred. There will be greater commercial opportunities for those post offices. In total, the package that we have put forward today has something to offer all 18,500 post offices presently in the network.

The Post Office and the major banks are discussing the detail of the universal bank. The Treasury, on behalf of the Government, has said today that high street banks that participate in the universal bank and make financial contributions towards its establishment would meet their financial exclusion obligations. That will make a big contribution to ensuring that the universal bank is a success.

I have asked the Post Office to present, by 1 September this year, a business plan giving details of how the universal bank will work in practice. In terms of internet access, once again I have asked the Post Office to present a report to me by the end of this year.