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Post Office Closures (Shepherd's Bush)

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

The Petition of the people of Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith,

Declares that we cannot afford to lose four Post Office branches.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ask Post Office Limited to reconsider their plans to close so many branches in our area

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Andy Slaughter, Official Report, Tuesday 29 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 276 .][P000184]

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 why it 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 a £150 million Social Network Payment to support the post office network up to this time. 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). Post Office Limited (POL) announced on 9 April that it will extend Outreach trials into urban areas which, if successful, 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.

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 London has finished, and POL has published its Area Plan Decision Booklet on its website, confirming the closure of Askew Road and Goldhawk Road post offices. In addition, POL has also confirmed the closure of the Boileau Parade, Haven Green, Churchfield Road and Fulham Road branches within this constituency. Details of the closures are available on the POL 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), 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. For closure decisions after the public consultation process, the Review Process applies when 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 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. An addition to the review process last November provides for very difficult cases which remain unresolved after stage 3. At this final stage, the Chairman of Royal Mail Group will review the issues and reach a final decision.