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Post Office Closures (Boat of Garten)

Volume 470: debated on Monday 7 January 2008

The Petition of the Community Council and residents of Boat of Garten and vicinity, Inverness-shire, Scotland,

Declares that the Petitioners are concerned for the future of their local Post Office in Boat of Garten and the damaging economic and social effects that any closure would have on their community. Further declares that the Boat of Garten Post Office is widely supported by local residents, businesses and visitors to the Cairngorms National Park and that public transport is insufficient to allow vulnerable residents access to any other Post Office.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ensure that Boat of Garten Post Office is retained before irreparable damage is done to the well-being, sustainability and cohesion of our community.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Danny Alexander, Official Report, 13 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 644.] [P000055]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform:

The Government fully recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003. It has decided to extend that support to 2011 with the provision of up to another £1 billion additional funding.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced back in May confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new Outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Nevertheless, to ensure sustainability, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

Post Office Limited (POL) is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October this year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until next July with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for the Highlands of Scotland will commence 8 January 2008 and is expected to conclude 18 February 2008.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices and final decisions on which post offices will close are taken by POL in light of the responses received to the area consultations.