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Volume 566: debated on Monday 15 July 2013


Monday 15 July 2013


Business, Innovation and Skills

Franchising of Stockton Crown Post Office

The Petition of the people of Stockton-on-Tees and surrounding areas,

Declares that the Petitioners totally oppose the franchising of Stockton Crown Post Office and believe the proposal will severely damage the provision of services.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to call upon the Post Office to withdraw their plans and retain Stockton Crown Post Office.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Alex Cunningham, Official Report, 11 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 651 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills:

The Government note the views of the petitioners about the future of Stockton-on-Tees Post Office branch, which is currently directly operated by Post Office Ltd, and is known as a Crown branch.

The Government note that the implementation of the Crown Transformation Programme is an operational matter which is the responsibility of senior management at Post Office Ltd. The Government, as shareholder, do not play any role in decisions relating to individual post office branches. In considering the future provision of Post Office services in Stockton-on-Tees, it is important to note the wider context of Post Office Ltd’s proposals to franchise 70 Crown post offices and to merge or relocate a small number of other Crown branches.

The Government note that the 2010 Spending Review contained a clear commitment to modernising the post office network and safeguarding its future, and allocated a £1.34 billion funding package to provide for significant investment across the post office network. A condition of this funding package requires Post Office Ltd to continue to maintain a network of at least 11,500 branches, to comply fully with the access criteria, and with no programme of branch closures.

The Government note that the 373 branches of the Crown network have incurred heavy and historic losses, totalling £46 million in 2011-12, and a further heavy loss in 2012-13. Eliminating these Crown losses is a key element of Post Office Ltd’s strategy to provide for the long-term sustainable future of the network, and the Government support the business in delivering that strategy.

The Government note that the current losses incurred by the Crown network contribute to around a third of the losses sustained by the network as a whole and this is not sustainable. No business, including the Post Office, can continue with a situation where some of its high street branches cost substantially more to run than they generate in revenues. In the case of the Stockton-on-Tees Crown branch, it costs £1.43 to generate every £1 of income.

The Government note that within its broader strategy for eliminating these unsustainable losses and achieving break even for the Crown network by 2015, Post Office Ltd has identified a group of branches where it sees no prospect of eliminating the losses at a local level under the current operating and cost structure. The precise reasons will vary from location to location but commonly include factors such as high property costs and sub-optimal location to attract the necessary increase in custom and business to make them profitable.

The Government note that Post Office Ltd has however made clear that, under each franchise proposal, the full range of post office services would continue to be available in close proximity to the existing Crown branch; and, in the event that a suitable new retail partner cannot be found, Post Office Ltd has given a commitment that a post office service will be retained within the area. Furthermore, before any changes are made to the existing service provision in Stockton-on-Tees, there will be a six-week local public consultation under the terms of a Code of Practice agreed between the Post Office Ltd and Consumer Focus. The public consultation focuses on specific and detailed proposals for relocating the service provision, including such matters as ease of access, and responses are carefully considered by Post Office Ltd before a final decision is reached.

Communities and Local Government

Cemetery at Aldridge Road, Walsall

The Petition of Residents Against Cemetery,

Declares that the Petitioners are against the granting of planning for a cemetery at Aldridge Road, Walsall.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to encourage Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council to consider the objections of local residents.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Valerie Vaz, Official Report, 26 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1604 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council is responsible for day-to-day planning control in their area and the Secretary of State cannot comment on the merits or otherwise of any planning application.

Planning applications are determined in accordance with the development plan for the area unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The local planning authority must consider all the representations made within the consultation period, and take into account any relevant considerations that they raise. However, the weight to be given to representations on a particular issue is a matter of judgment for the local authority as the decision-taker in the first instance.

Proposed Closure of Downham Fire Station

The Petition of residents of South East London,

Declares that the Petitioners regret the £30 million cut to the grant received by the London Fire Brigade for the years 2013-14 and 2014-15; express concern about the proposed closure of Downham Fire Station as set out in the Fifth London Safety Plan; and note that the proposed closure of Downham Fire Station, currently subject to consultation, will increase the average Fire Brigade response time to incidents in the London Borough of Lewisham by 31 seconds.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Communities and Local Government to appeal to the Mayor of London to prioritise public safety and to keep Downham Fire Station open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Heidi Alexander, Official Report, 19 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 1022 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

The Fire Minister is aware that London Fire Brigade is consulting on fire cover in the London area.

Fire and rescue authorities deliver an incredibly important service for local communities. And the Government have made a clear commitment to ensuring the effectiveness of front-line services. Every bit of the public sector needs to play its part to cut the deficit inherited from the last Administration. Fire and rescue, as a front-line emergency service, has been given funding protection with reductions back-loaded to give more time for sensible savings to be made without impacting on the quality and breadth of services offered to communities.

There is no role for central Government to intervene in local decision making. Fire station closures and other operational issues are quite rightly devolved matters for the London Mayor and Assembly. It is right that the elected members of each Fire and Rescue Authority make decisions on operational proposals in their area, acting on the professional advice of principal fire officers and balancing competing local demands on available resources for the benefits of the communities they serve. People have had opportunities to make their voices heard on such issues. The London Fire Commissioner has stated his commitment to maintaining existing response times.