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Post Office Closures (Shropshire)

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Petition of users of Post Offices in the Ludlow Constituency,

Declares that plans to close 14 Post Offices in the Ludlow constituency, 9 of which are in the last remaining shop in the village, will affect many users of Post Office services, particularly vulnerable people with limited access to alternative branches and undermine sustainability of the local community. Withdrawal of the Post Office from the local shop will threaten the future of many remaining village shops, and introduction of a mobile van service for a few hours a week in 7 villages does nothing to reduce this threat to our communities.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to be aware of the Petitioners concerns against closure of Post Offices in the Ludlow constituency and to instruct Post Office Ltd to halt the closure of these Post Offices.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Philip Dunne, Official Report, 9 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 133 .] [P000209]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 25 July 2008:

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 Shropshire and Staffordshire, including the Ludlow constituency, finished on 9 June, and POL will publish its Area Plan Decision Booklet on its website in due course. I understand that in 6 of the cases where the post office is the only shop in the village there will be an Outreach replacement service. Details of the closures and any further reviews will be 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. After the public consultation process, the review process will apply when Postwatch shows that:

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.

The Petition of users of Montford Bridge Post Office,

Declares that that the plan to close five Post Offices in the Shrewsbury and Atcham constituency will have a detrimental effect on the lives of local residents. The local Post Office is a vital and integral element of the local community, supporting social interaction between residents. They should not simply be assessed on an economic basis without taking into consideration the social economic value they offer to the local community. The proposed partial replacement of three of the Post Offices earmarked for closure by a mobile vehicle with restricted hours, and in some cases parked on the side of roads or in lay-bys, is a substandard solution not benefiting the world we live in today.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to instruct Post Office Ltd. to ensure that Montford Bridge Post Office is kept open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Daniel Kawczynski, Official Report, 25 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 465 .] [P000215]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, received 11 September 2008:

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. 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 Shropshire and Staffordshire ended on 9 June and POL published its final decision on 1 July. Having considered all representations and the criteria for the network change programme POL has confirmed that it is to proceed with the proposed closure of the Montford Bridge branch and its replacement with an Outreach service. The Area Plan Decision Booklet for Shropshire and Staffordshire is 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, 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. An addition to the review process last November 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.