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Petitions

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

Petitions

Thursday 17 July 2008

Presented Petition

Petition presented to the House but not read on the Floor

Post Office Closures (Cheshire)

The Petition of Mrs Shelagh Beswick, Manager, Wincham Post Office, Mr Alastair Carmichael, Sub Post Master, Barnton Post Office, and others of like disposition,

Declares that they and others care deeply about their local Post Office, where they wish to be able to continue to use their Post Office Card Account, as they are unable to easily visit the bank in their nearest town.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that POCA2 remains a Post Office product.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. George Osborne .]

[P000248]

Observations

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Post Office Closures (Shepherd's Bush)

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.

Post Office Restructuring (Coventry)

The Petition of the Communication Workers Union, Coventry Area Branch,

Declares that they do not agree with the franchise of Hertford Street Crown Post Office in Coventry City Centre. They do not want WH Smith, or any other private company, running this public service, we believe that the Crown Post Office at Hertford Street Coventry should continue to be provided by Post Office Ltd. and should remain at its current location.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government and Post Office Ltd. to withdraw its franchise plans for Hertford Street Crown Post Office.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Jim Cunningham, Official Report, 18 December 2007; Vol. 823, c. 469 .] [P000095]

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

The future viability of directly managed offices, otherwise known as 'Crown Offices', needs to be addressed in the wider interests of the network as a whole, in view of the major changes and challenges it faces. Post Office Limited's (POL) current policy, which has the Government's support, is to maintain a core network of directly managed offices, whilst continuing to drive efficiencies in an effort to reduce costs and return the business to profitability.

This strategy includes, as recommended in the Performance and Innovation Unit Report on the future of the post office network (a copy of which can be found at: www.berr.gov.uk), the conversion of individual, directly managed offices to franchise or agency status, where suitable opportunities arise. The commercial agreement between POL and WH Smith allows for the franchising of around 70 Crown post offices, which will involve WH Smith introducing a Post Office operation into more of its stores, as it has already done in other parts of the country.

Crown post offices are those that are directly staffed and managed by Post Office Ltd and are around 380 from a network of 13,000 branches—the rest (97%) are 'sub-post offices' operated under contract by agents and franchise chains. The network has always relied on private business for the majority of its outlets. Losses in the Crown post offices have been running at around £70m per year and clearly action has to be taken to reduce these losses. Franchising helps maintain services which could be under threat, due to the large scale of the losses in the Crown network. These losses represent money that could be better used for the benefit of customers and it is absolutely right that POL look to find more cost effective ways of providing the main Post Office service to customers.

Operational matters are, of course, the direct responsibility of POL management, though it is not POL's intention to downgrade any of the branches under its franchise agreements. The franchising will simply mean that the business will be run by another company on its behalf, albeit at a new location nearby. Customers will continue to have access to the same level of Post Office services as they do now. Research has shown that post offices that have run in partnership with franchise partners have proved to be very popular with customers, who very often find that service is actually enhanced, due to new premises, longer opening hours and wider retail offerings. Experience also shows that this allows the Post Office and retail sides of the business to complement each other, increasing footfall and improving financial viability.

Hertford Street Crown Post Office branch was converted on 15 May 2008 and relocated to a nearby WH Smith store.

Treasury

HMRC Workforce Change

The Petition of local businesses of Hove & Portslade, the PCS and others,

Declares the Petitioners serious concerns about the HMRC’s Workforce Change proposals which will close twenty-five offices, including Hove, and lead to a reduction in staff by 2300 across the South-East. The Petitioners further declare that the proposed changes in the HMRC are aimed at generating financial savings and do not take into account the quality of service delivery and the adverse impact both on staff and on customers.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to prevent the planned closure.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ms Celia Barlow, Official Report, Wednesday 25 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 7P .][P000188]

Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:

The Government note the petition, and makes the following observations:

“The Government notes that similar representations were made during the consultation exercise that HM Revenue & Customs held with staff, unions and key external stakeholders including local authorities, on its initial proposals for restructuring its operations in Cluster 42, which includes Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Newhaven and Worthing. All representations were taken into account before final decisions were made on the future of Hove and the other offices under review. Decisions will be announced today. HMRC will continue to maintain a local face to face advice service to customers by retaining Enquiry centre services at or near their current locations”.

The Petition of employees of HM Revenue and Customs, the Public and Commercial Services Union and others,

Declares that they are seriously concerned about the future of the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) office in Kendal, and also similar threats facing their colleagues in Lancaster and Barrow. The proposal to close these offices will mean that local people and businesses will be left without access to these services. They are also concerned about the likelihood of staff affected by the closures being able to find alternative work within the local area. They further declare their support for the PCS campaign to keep these offices open.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the HM Treasury to withdraw the threat of closure to local HMRC offices.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tim Farron, Official Report, 1 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 835 .] [P000223]

Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:

The Government note the petition, and make the following observations:

“The Government notes that HMRC published on 11 June 2008 its proposals for restructuring its operations in cluster and individual locations in the North West, which include Kendal, Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness. All representations will be taken into account before final decisions are made later this year on the future of Kendal, Lancaster, Barrow-in-Furness and the other offices under review. HMRC will continue to maintain a local face to face advice service to customers by retaining Enquiry centre services at or near their current locations”.

The Petition of people of South Holland,

Declares that large parts of their public services are being cut and privatised and that across the UK public servants are struggling to deliver good quality service in the midst of redundancies, low pay and rising workloads. Further declares that the HMRC Office in Spalding is vital to helping those that are self employed, employed, families on tax credits, pensioners and unemployed persons.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to work to ensure that the HMRC Office in Spalding remains open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. John Hayes, Official Report, 9 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1513 .] [P000232]

Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:

The Government note the petition, and make the following observations:

“The Government notes that similar representations were made during the consultation exercise that HM Revenue & Customs held with staff, unions and key external stakeholders including local authorities, on its initial proposals for restructuring its operations in Cluster 15, which includes Boston and Spalding. All representations were taken into account before final decisions were made on the future of Spalding and the other offices under review. Decisions will be announced today. HMRC will continue to maintain a local face to face advice service to customers by retaining Enquiry centre services at or near their current locations”.