My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues. I particularly welcome the awarding of the Post Office card account contract to Post Office Ltd.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. We should be talking about expanding post office services, and looking at the savings gateway project, which was announced by the Post Office last week. We should also be encouraging the roll-out of more free ATMs—many people are unaware that those operated by the Post Office are free. There are now only nine banks in my area, but there are 19 post offices, and we should also be considering expanding the post office network in such a way that it can become the people’s bank.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Post Office is a trusted brand that is considered reliable, safe and secure, and I am delighted that the pre-Budget report announced that the savings gateway account will be available through the Post Office. We estimate that about 725,000 people in Scotland will be eligible to open an account from 2010. We all know that, in times of economic difficulty, saving even a small amount of money can make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives.
East Dunbartonshire has lost a third of its post offices in recent years, and others have been threatened. What other plans do the Government have to build on their belated, but very welcome, decision to save the Post Office card account, in order to deliver many more Government services through the post office network and to give the remaining post offices a much more secure future?
I recently met Ian McKay, the director of Scottish affairs at Royal Mail, and I know that Royal Mail is considering bringing a number of innovative products to market through the Royal Mail services. It believes that it now has a sustainable network in Scotland, and it is working hard to ensure that the universal service is maintained. That is exactly why the Government have set up the Hooper review, which will report to the Government later this year on how we are going to sustain the universal service in the long term.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the discussions that are currently taking place on the possibility of post offices offering credit union services in their branches? The credit union movement is particularly strong in Scotland, and it is playing a particularly important role in the current financial situation. Will my hon. Friend ask her officials to look into this possibility, to see whether such an arrangement could bring added business into the post office network in our communities?
My hon. Friend has had long experience with personal debt advice services, and has supported them through his chairmanship of the all-party group on debt and personal finance. I fully agree that there is an important possible link-up between Royal Mail and the credit unions, and I would be happy to work with him to pursue that matter with Royal Mail.