Postal Services Bill

Part of Planning (Developer Bonds) – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 27th October 2010.

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Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 5:37 pm, 27th October 2010

I can speak only from my own experience, having previously worked in the advertising industry, where we encountered the wrath of Ofcom. It seemed only too ready to stand up for the rights of consumers, and I have every confidence that it will do so in the case of postal services too.

Opposition Members have asked repeatedly what guarantees there are. What guarantees have there been for the Post Office and Royal Mail over the past 13 years, when we have seen thousands of post offices closed? Glenda Jackson gave an impassioned speech about the removal of post office services and sub-post offices from her constituency. We would all concur with that, and we would all share the view that they play a vital role in the community, but the previous system made no guarantees to those post offices. We have seen a slow withering of the post office network on the vine, a slow reduction in the support for post offices, and their closure. We cannot go on like that.

I am interested in the provisions of clauses 26 and 27, which give authority to postal service providers and get rid of the current licensing regime. The Secretary of State believes that that will be more efficient and cheaper for businesses. I would be encouraged if the same mechanism allowed new providers to come in. During the debate, hon. Members have asked how new sub-post offices can open and how postal providers can come into the market.

In my constituency-other hon. Members may have had the same experience-to try to fight the pressure for branch closures, independent businesses fought hard to keep those post offices open. The Enbrook Valley post office in my constituency is a sub-post office run by an independent retailer. He had to fight hard to maintain that provision. He wanted to put a business case together to keep that post office working, and with the support of the local community and money raised by the local community, he did just that. I would like to see more of that, and the process made easier through the Bill.

I am interested in the work of organisations such as Pub is the Hub, which try to turn pubs into multifaceted businesses, particularly in rural communities, where the post office can play a part too. In a village in my constituency-Elham, where I live-when the post office closed, provision was transferred to a counter operating in the King's Arms pub. Never before had it been realised that there was such demand for picking up books of stamps at lunchtime. There may well be more business models like that which we could encourage, through a mechanism that encourages new providers to come into the post office branch network market.

I agree that it is right that the post office network should not be privatised as part of the provisions of the Bill. However, that does not mean that there should be stasis around the post office network, with nothing changing. Although we welcome the money that the Secretary of State announced today to support the network, that does not mean that there cannot be innovation in provision and an attempt to attract new providers. I look forward to debating the Bill, especially clauses 26 and 27, and listening to the debate as it progresses through Parliament. May it offer some opportunity for new providers to come in, and for the Secretary of State to encourage and support that.