We have been clear that we will ensure that post offices are allowed to offer a wide range of services in order to sustain the network. We are working with Post Office Ltd to develop new sources of revenue, including considering the case for a Post Office bank.
I thank the Minister for his response. He, like me, campaigned tooth and nail against the previous Government’s mass post office closure programme, which proved so damaging to communities such as mine in Norwich South. Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that over the next five years of this Government he will do everything he can to make sure there is no further post office closure programme?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done in his constituency campaigning against the closures proposed by the previous Government. This Government recognise the important social and economic role played by post offices in communities throughout the United Kingdom. That is why we have secured £180 million in the next financial year for the social network payment and why I give the House my commitment that I shall work night and day to avoid the mass closures of post offices that we saw under the previous Government.
In addition, I handed in a petition to Downing street, with more than 5,000 names of people who were trying to save four post offices in my constituency. Sadly, it fell on deaf ears. Is my hon. Friend concerned that Camelot’s proposed plans to allow bill payments through its terminals may adversely affect the 7,500 post offices that do not have such terminals?
Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work campaigning for his constituents and their post offices. I must say that Camelot’s proposal to provide commercial services through lottery terminals is still subject to the regulatory approval of the National Lottery Commission. If the commission consents to Camelot’s proposals, Post Office Ltd will carry out an assessment of the impact on sub-post offices and we will take that into account.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the continuation of the provision of postal services in a wide range of communities. Given the difficulty of maintaining counter and, indeed, banking services in our poorest communities, can he give us an assurance that, in ensuring that such services can be maintained in such communities, public safety and staff safety will be a paramount consideration in finding suitable outlets?
The safety of staff and the public is always a major consideration as we go forward in modernising the network. I think the fact that the Government are committed to looking for new services and new ways of doing things, and to seeing whether we can increase the financial services that go through the network, will be widely welcomed. That will enable the network to be more financially viable and therefore to meet even better the concerns that the hon. Lady has voiced.
The Minister knows full well that one of the determining factors as to which post offices remained open during the two or three-year period when we lost 2,500 outlets was the access criteria. Can he give the House an assurance today that we will not see those access criteria interfered or tampered with?
The hon. Gentleman can have my assurance that I am working very hard with Post Office Ltd to make sure that we have the new services that will generate the revenue, so that we do not have to see the mass closure programme that precipitated the access criteria that the hon. Gentleman’s Government had to introduce.