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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 have been generous in giving way so far, and consistent with my obligations to the hon. Member for Twickenham, I should make some progress.

The hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned the "your guide" pilot. As he said, the Post Office has been piloting the concept of post offices as government general practitioners in Leicester and Rutland. The aim is to test the concept of the post office acting as a one-stop, first-shop facility providing advice and access to transactions within a range of public and voluntary sector organisations. The Government invested £25 million in that major pilot, which ran from July last year until March this year.

During the pilot, the post offices concentrated on a number of limited key services to their core customers, which included advice, information, transactions in broad areas of retirement, seeking work and local information. The service includes advice and information on pensions, other benefits, job vacancies, local transport, interface with local government and many more services besides.

The Leicester and Rutland pilot takes forward the recommendation in the performance and innovation unit report. The outcome of the pilot is now being fully evaluated by the Post Office with those organisations participating in the pilot and by the Government. The evaluation is examining the extent to which the "your guide" concept can deliver services that citizens really want and need, and the extent to which "your guide" can provide value for money for Government Departments and other organisations using it as a channel to offer their services directly to the public. That includes examining the extent to which those organisations achieve efficiency savings and the extent to which "your guide" services can improve the ability of Government Departments to meet their service objectives.

The evaluation process has included gathering data, manually and electronically, the conduct of surveys within and beyond the pilot area, and the gathering of qualitative data via focus groups, discussion groups and feedback sessions involving the public, sub-postmasters and stakeholder organisations, including central and local government.

All the evidence has been drawn together by a central evaluation team, which includes members of the office of the e-envoy. As the Minister responsible, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, for UK Online, I fear that there may be some confusion in the mind of the hon. Member for Twickenham as to the role that those services can provide. We are confident that there is at least potential to draw on the expertise of the e-envoy's office in exactly this type of service provision online in evaluating the "your guide" pilot. I simply do not recognise the kind of conspiracy that the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting in drawing from within Government exactly the expertise that we need to make effective the evaluation that is being carried out.