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Post Office Closures

Part of Deferred Division – in the House of Commons at 4:59 pm on 19th March 2008.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West 4:59 pm, 19th March 2008

No. Before I criticise the further irresponsible tactics of the Opposition on this issue, may I just say how much I appreciated the thoughtful suggestions made by Mr. Paice and other hon. Members as to how the post office network could be better organised? I hope that rather than defending the barricade in this debate, Ministers will take on board some of the suggestions that have come from all parts of the House.

On profitability, we know that only 4,000 of the 14,000 post offices can survive without some form of annual subsidy and that annual subsidy is running at about £159 million a year. We know that the size of the network is likely to shrink, and that shrinkage has been reluctantly supported by the National Federation of SubPostmasters, which the Conservatives pray in aid from time to time. We also know that 3,500 post offices have closed under previous Administrations, when not a penny piece of subsidy was provided to support the network.

No one should support the Tory motion, because there is no hiding place for their arguments while they remain light on policy and financially free in their commitments. There is not a Tory MP who was not elected on the pledge to cut public expenditure in line with the James review. Only this week, we read that James is alive and well. I note that it was claimed on 17 March:

"David Cameron is to salvage a Tory plan to cut government spending by £12bn that formed the centrepiece of Michael Howard's 2005 general election campaign.

In a sign of his determination to cut taxes, Cameron has authorised his shadow Treasury team to dust down the so-called James review of 2004-05, which identified £12bn of potential government savings."

Said a Tory source:

'"We are still committed to many aspects of the James review...It has some very sound ideas. Savings will go into the pot and will be used for tax cuts or spent elsewhere."'

Not only are the Tories failing to match the existing commitment, but there is a very real prospect that budgets will be slashed still further.

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