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We have seen from the debate today the strong feelings that post office closures can arouse not only in the House, but in local communities. I understand that, as do the Government. That is why the Government support the post office network with such significant investment, and why we have done so over many years.
There is the subsidy of £150 million a year, without which thousands more post offices would be under threat. There is other support in the package of £1.7 billion up till 2011—support to cover losses over and above those that the subsidy covers, support to enable new outreach services to provide post office services in new ways, and other support that adds up to significant backing for the Post Office up to 2011. That was acknowledged by some in the debate, including my hon. Friend Michael Jabez Foster.
The reason why we do that, as the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, is that we do not see the Post Office as a purely commercial concern. We appreciate its social and community role. Without the backing that the Government give to the Post Office, which was not there when the Conservatives were in power, a commercial network would consist of only about 4,000 branches. So when Mr. Heath says that it is not just a commercial service, we agree. That is why we have put so much public backing behind it.
Even with the high level of subsidy, because of the decline in custom and the level of losses, some offices are having to close. I understand that that is unpopular, but sometimes government is about taking difficult decisions.
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