The Petition of Mr Shah and others,
Declares that Willowbrook Road Post Office plays an important role in the survival of the local community, and that its closure would bring about further deprivation to an already disadvantaged community.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs to make arrangements to ensure that the proposed closure of the Willowbrook Road Post Office does not go ahead
And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Keith Vaz, Official Report, 18 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 825 .] [P000097]
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.
In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 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 Leicestershire ended on 10 January. Final decisions on the closure proposals in the Leicestershire area plan are scheduled to be announced by POL on 1st February.
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. No decisions on individual Post Offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The Review Process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:
POL has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation in coming to its decision or;
where evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government's policy requirements.
The aim of the further review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review with 3 stages available at increasing levels of seniority. A recent addition to the review process provides that for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3, Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.