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Post Office Closures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 15th May 2002.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness) 3:38 pm, 15th May 2002

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

'applauds the Government's decision to accept all 24 of the PIU recommendations in its June 2000 report "Counter Revolution—Modernising the Post Office Network";
notes that Consignia is committed to preventing avoidable closures of rural post offices and has drawn up a code of conduct on how this is to be implemented in conjunction with the consumer watchdog, Postwatch;
further applauds the decision of the Government to grant the greater commercial freedom to Consignia that management and unions had long called for;
welcomes the action of the Government in appointing a new chairman of Consignia and a new chief executive of Post Office Ltd. and to enshrine in legislation the primary duty of the regulator to preserve the universal service;
further applauds the commitment of the Government to a national network of post offices;
and further notes the commitment by Post Office Ltd. to ensure that 95 per cent. of people in urban areas will live within a mile of a post office, and the majority within half a mile.'.

Dr. Cable has reminded the House that the Post Office and the post office network, in particular, are venerable institutions that have long played a central role in communities the length and breadth of the country. In that, at least, he is in agreement with the Government. The Post Office touches lives like no other industry. It has a turnover of more than £8 billion, it delivers 80 million items of post every day and, every week, 28 million customers visit their post office to take advantage of more than 170 different products and services.

I pay tribute to the men and women who work for the Post Office and the post office network. It is no exaggeration to say that the Post Office is one of the strands that helps to bind together our communities, whether urban or rural, across the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman raised several points, and I shall endeavour to address them in my response. I shall try to cover the major issues that he raised in the order in which he raised them. I shall first focus on the network and touch on management, in particular, before addressing the implementation of the performance and innovation unit report. I shall then discuss "your guide", the universal bank and the urban network in particular.

No one doubts that the Post Office faces major challenges. Its tradition of work needs to respond to the challenging and changing requirements of customers, to changes in society and to the opportunities arising from new technology. The hon. Gentleman focused his remarks on the post office network so I shall try to set in context the programme of work that has been taken forward on that.

The Post Office is the largest retail network in Europe and more than nine out of 10 people in this country live within a mile of a post office. It has unrivalled coverage, with more than 17,500 branches the length and breadth of the country. Two thirds of people live within half a mile of two or more post offices. Yet although local post offices are still important to many people, as customers, they are not using them as often. In recent years, there has been a steady decline in the volume of transactions undertaken at post offices as a result of changing habits and lifestyles, changes in customer preferences and new ways of doing business. I have two examples of that. First, the number of telephone bills paid at the post office is down from 39 million in 1996–97 to 32 million in 2000–01. Secondly, the number of postal orders issued is down from 37 million in 1996–97 to 32 million in 2000–01.