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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Post Office. I am today publishing the Government's proposals in a consultation document, copies of which will be available in the Vote Office in the usual way.
First, let me set out the background to the proposals that we make. There are 14,300 post offices in the UK, of which 480 are Crown post offices owned by the Post Office and 13,820 post offices are operated by postmasters and mistresses as private businesses. Historically, branches have been located where the sub-postmaster has chosen to set up business, rather than as a result of a strategic decision by the Post Office. The result is that in some places many branches are competing for the same customers, which is why the Post Office will take a more active role in ensuring that the right post office is in the right place—something the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters supports.
But the big problem is that people are simply not using post offices as they once did. Some 4 million fewer people are using post offices each week, compared with just two years ago. [Interruption.] The market in which the post office network operates has changed beyond recognition in the past 10 to 15 years. Traditionally, the post office was the place— [Interruption.]