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Post Office Closures (Brighton)

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

The Petition of those affected by the closure of the Elm Grove Post Office in Brighton,

Declares that they believe that the Post Office provides an invaluable and local service to local residents, many of them older people and young families who need the many essential services provided by the Post Office close at hand. If the Government truly believes in building sustainable communities, it will withdraw this and other Post Office closure proposals.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to make representations to the Post Office Ltd. to withdraw its closure proposals for the Post Office at Elm Grove, Brighton, which plays such an important part in the life of the local community.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by David Lepper, Official Report, 11 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 272 .] [P000078]

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

The Government fully recognise the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why they are determined to maintain a national post office network, allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and why they have put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government have been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. This 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 confirmation of their decision, in May 2007, to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of a £150 million Social Network Payment. 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 pubs, village halls, churches and mobile post offices) will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. POL announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas. If successful, it could mean additional Outreach branches over and above the 500 originally planned. Nevertheless, 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 last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for Sussex finished on 24 December 2007 and Post Office Ltd announced final decisions on 29 January 2008. Having considered all representations and the criteria for the network change programme POL have confirmed that the Elm Grove Post Office is to close. POL have published their decision in an Area Plan Decision Booklet for Sussex which will be available on their website at www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange.

POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch. It 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. 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 do 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 the 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;

evidence emerges from the consultation that the proposal for thebranch 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. There was an addition to the review process last November which caters for very difficult cases remaining unresolved after stage 3. Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail Group, will review the issues and reach a final decision.

The Government are not in any way constraining sub-postmasters. Sub-postmasters and mistresses, who own and operate 97 per cent. of the post office network, are private business people and contracted as agents on behalf of POL. As such, they are free to develop their associated retail business and to enter into contracts with anyone they choose, as long as the products provided are not in direct competition with key Post Office products.

The Government cannot ignore the fact that many people now want to access services in different ways, (using direct debits, ATMs, and the phone and the Internet). Government Departments must live within their financial constraints and it is only right that they ensure value for money in their delivery of services. We want the network to be autonomous and become the providers of choice and not of obligation.