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Post Office Network — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:44 am on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Amanda Solloway Amanda Solloway Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 10:44 am, 10th March 2020

If I do not answer the hon. Lady’s question subsequently, I will provide her with a written answer.

There are more than 6,100 post offices in rural areas, and almost 99% of the rural population live within three miles of one of those branches. Illustrating the importance of post offices in those areas is the fact that almost half of rural post offices have community status, which means that they are the last shop in their village. When the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw referred to how she had been helped with a passport application, I was reminded that, many years ago, I was in exactly the same situation when I went to do my passport. The Post Office recognises the unique challenge of running a community branch, and it provides fixed as well as variable remuneration to reflect their special situation.

A question was asked about opening hours. The network transformation programme involved the announcement of more than 200,000 weekly opening hours and established the Post Office as the largest network trading on a Sunday. The Government fully understand the importance of access to cash, especially in the context of accelerated bank branch closures. That is why the industry-wide banking framework agreement between the Post Office and the high street banks is pivotal in ensuring convenient access to everyday banking services. The House will be glad to know that, as part of its review of postmaster remuneration, Post Office Ltd increased the fixed remuneration received by community status branches to ensure the long-term stability of the rural network.

On Horizon, which the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw asked about, I echo what my colleague Paul Scully MP said to the House: although the Government are pleased that a resolution to the Horizon group litigation has been reached, we do not take for granted the strength of feeling about the negative impact that the Horizon court case has had on postmasters. The Government recognise that this has been a difficult period for postmasters, who are at the heart of communities across the UK. Although the financial settlement in December 2019 and the Post Office’s apology are significant steps in the right direction, there is still a lot that the Post Office needs to do to strengthen its relationship with postmasters and to regain public trust.

Let me reassure hon. Members that improvements at all levels of the organisation are well under way, reflecting the lessons learned from the past. Minister Scully has already spoken to the Post Office—