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Post Office Closures (West Sussex)

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

The Petition of Post Office Users of Worthing and Adur,

Declares that the closures proposed by the Post Office Ltd (POL) to nine post offices located in Worthing and Adur in West Sussex, which come on top of previous substantial closures and are the most severe changes suggested in the whole of Sussex, are not in the best interests of local residents many of whom are elderly and are unable to travel the increased long distances that closures entail, local shops rely on Post Offices to encourage local business or indeed the local community as a whole which already experiences long queues for access to Post Offices.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges Her Majesty's Government, as a matter of urgent public importance, to instruct the Royal Mail Group to suspend this closure programme and redifine the criteria on which closures are being proposed with regard to the hardship it will cause communities with high levels of elderly people and deprivation and poor public transport links in particular.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tim Loughton, Official Report, 17 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 675 .] [P000087]

The Petition of Post Office Users of Worthing and Adur,

Declares that the closures proposed by the Post Office Ltd (POL) to nine post offices located in Worthing and Adur in West Sussex, which come on top of previous substantial closures and are the most severe changes suggested in the whole of Sussex, are not in the best interests of local residents many of whom are elderly and are unable to travel the increased long distances that closures entail, local shops rely on Post Offices to encourage local business or indeed the local community as a whole which already experiences long queues for access to Post Offices.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges Her Majesty's Government, as a matter of urgent public importance, to instruct the Royal Mail Group to suspend this closure programme and redifine the criteria on which closures are being proposed with regard to the hardship it will cause communities with high levels of elderly people and deprivation and poor public transport links in particular.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Peter Bottomley, Official Report, 17 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 5P .] [P000099]

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 2007 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 POL announced its final decisions on 31 January. Post Office Ltd has decided to retain 236 branches and proceed with the closure of 41. A further eight branches are subject to further review by Postwatch and decisions on those will be communicated in due course. An Outreach service will replace two branches. POL have published their decisions in an Area Plan Decision Booklet for Sussex which is available on their website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange

In the decision booklet POL have confirmed the closure of nine branches in the Adur and Worthington Council Districts:

1. Bowness Avenue; 2. The Parade; 3. Downlands; 4. Old Shoreham; 5. North Lancing; 6. South Lancing; 7. West Beach; 8. Heene Road; 9. The Strand;

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 three 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.

Government is 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.

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.