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Post Office Card Accounts

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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How many Post Office card accounts have been opened. [123227]

I understand from Post Office Ltd. that, by 20 June 2003, 57,000 Post Office card accounts had been opened. By that date, 430,000 people had indicated that they wanted to open a card account, so the number of accounts opened will grow rapidly in the period ahead.

I thank the Minister for those, in fact, disappointing figures. May I say, because he is a nice chap, how much I regret the fact that he has been unable to unload the role and responsibility for the Post Office on to some other unfortunate Minister, as it really is a disaster and an absolute black hole? Can he explain to the House how his colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions have estimated that there will be 3 million Post Office card accounts, but the Post Office has calculated that there will be 5 million? As the Post Office has done the 5 million calculation to ensure the viability of those sub-post offices that survive the present savage cull, what will happen to them if Ministers at the Department for Works and Pensions are right with their 3 million figure? What will the Minister do to ensure a 5 million take-up of Post Office card accounts to make sure that our sub-post offices—those that are left—survive?

The Post Office is progressing extremely well. Large numbers of Post Office card accounts are being opened, as I have said, and they are proving particularly popular among pensioners. Everyone who wants a card account will get one. My hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions have indicated that they now expect the number to be above the 3 million figure, which was the initial working assumption.

It is very important not to miss the bigger opportunity. From this week, Lloyds TSB current account holders can use their cashpoint cards to obtain cash at any post office in the country. I tried that on my way in at the Members' Post Office, and I am pleased to say that it worked extremely well. With Alliance and Leicester and Barclays already offering that service, that brings to 19 million the number of current accounts now accessible at every post office in the country. That is a huge commercial opportunity for the post office network. It is half as many again, for example, as the total number of state benefit and pension recipients, and the Post Office can now make a success of that opportunity.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, because of the difficulties that some people still have in gaining access to the Post Office card account, there should be a clear understanding—obviously, he will have to talk to those at the Department for Work and Pensions about this—that, if people choose not to open a bank account, the Post Office card account should be the failsafe system, so that post offices would be guaranteed that anyone who chose not to have a bank account should have a Post Office card account?

I agree that all those who do not want a bank account will be given a Post Office card account if they decide that they want one. That has been built into the process, so I can give absolutely that assurance to my hon. Friend.