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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

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I want to finish my speech, as I know that many other Members want to speak.

We must think about alternative long-term revenue streams for the Post Office. An obvious route that has not been discussed so far is development of the Post Office card account. About five years ago, the Government charged banks with making basic bank accounts available to those who needed them, but it simply has not worked. The best part of 2 million people still do not have access to an account, and the increase in basic bank accounts appears to have stalled. It is obvious from the take-up of the Post Office card account that it has been far more popular than the offers of basic bank accounts. It is also obvious that people want to use their post offices to gain access to their accounts and that some banks have been reluctant to allow them to do so. HSBC, HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, still do not allow people to use post offices for that purpose.

The problem is that there really is not anything in it for banks to offer basic bank accounts to people who are never going to earn very much, and who want to be dealt with face to face. The last thing that the commercial banks want are people who go into branches. They want people who bank by phone and by internet, whereas the Post Office needs footfall. Those are two very different needs.

It is time that the Government gave banks a choice. They should either force them to make their services available through the Post Office so that all can gain access to their basic bank accounts through the network, or give up on banks and develop the Post Office card account into a basic bank account. In either event, we need a universal service obligation on access to a bank account, and the Post Office should play a role in providing it. That could offer a very fruitful revenue stream.

We oppose the closure programme because it will have a devastating and permanent effect on our communities, but petitions alone will not save the network. We need a serious plan of investment— [Interruption]—a serious plan of investment, which the Conservative party— [Interruption.]

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