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Post Office Closures

Part of Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 19th March 2008.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) 3:00 pm, 19th March 2008

What we want is a sustainable programme, but it is obviously for local councils to decide what they do. Of course the letter placed in the Library by the Secretary of State makes the point that the Government will stop the £150 million subsidy, so councils would then be required to put the extra money in from council tax payers. It is a difficult decision for councils; they need to know that the Government have a long-term plan to ensure sustainability. There are some good proposals for councils to work with the Post Office, but I really want something that is sustainable and not just about central Government shifting the blame and the responsibility on to local government, which causes local councils to pick up the costs without any kind of benefit.

The trouble is, as I have already said, that the Government have no long-term plan to save the network. The access criteria they have devised with the Post Office would be met if we had just 7,000 post offices, which raises the spectre of further closures. Of course, the £1.7 billion that the Government boast about investing over five years already includes the £150 million a year that they had already committed—£750 million overall—and the redundancy package for sub-postmasters, which is £70 million plus some extra for central changes, taking it perhaps to £100 million. The Government have not provided the exact figures on that. By the time we have added that and taken into account general losses that the Post Office incurs each week, it is hard to see how much money would be left for real investment to modernise the Post Office.

Additionally, post offices are steadily having every revenue option they have taken away from them, leaving the network with huge uncertainty over the future of the Post Office card account, for example. That is why we must clearly decouple Royal Mail from the post office network, to allow it to develop other business revenues with competitors. I have already mentioned having a parcel depot for other mail delivery companies. There would be all sorts of other options, but not until the brave step of uncoupling Royal Mail from the Post Office has been taken. We urgently need investment in the network. That is why we propose to part-privatise Royal Mail, raising about £2 billion for the Government to invest in upgrading the post office network. Crown post offices, in particular, desperately need investment to allow them to compete on the high street. They need refurbishment and IT investment, and their staff need extra training.

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