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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 make it clear to the House that, consistent with remarks I made in the Adjournment debate on 18 December 2001, the evaluation will be completed by June. Given all the complaints that I have heard from Liberal Democrats today about the need for effective project management, it would be irresponsible to prejudge exactly the kind of evaluation that was absent from the horizon project for all those years, causing such profound and real problems. A full and robust evaluation of the pilot outcomes is necessary to inform future planning for the network. Given that a range of departments and organisations are involved, and that they would pay for the national service, the decision must, by definition, be made collectively. Unlike the Liberal Democrats, I would argue that full evaluation in line with best practice, project management and public procurement cannot be rushed. There are rules to which we must adhere for any major project of this kind.

Let me deal now with the points raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham and set out how the management of Post Office Ltd. will drive forward innovations necessary for the network. The hon. Gentleman spoke at some length about banking. Universal banking services, together with the Post Office's plans for an expansion of network banking—the provision of counter services for ordinary current accounts—should lead to a substantial increase in the range and volume of banking at post offices, tapping into a much larger customer base than benefit recipients alone. David Mills' long experience in the banking sector equips him well to lead those developments.

The trend for existing network banking already shows strong growth. Excluding Alliance and Leicester's post office business, the average daily number of transactions grew from under 20,000 in April 2000 to more than 40,000 at the end of 2001–02.