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Post Office

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2013

6. What recent discussions he has held with his ministerial colleagues on the use of the Post Office as a front office for Government services. (900783)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Post Office already delivers a number of valuable front-line services for the Government, and it has proved successful in competing for contracts. The Cabinet Office’s engagement at the moment involves conversations about how the Post Office and others might help us to give better support to citizens who are not yet online.

The Minister is correct: the Post Office already delivers a lot of Government services. It has the technology to enable it to back up the Government’s digital agenda and to be the front office for the Government. For example, people without internet access could make universal credit applications through it. Post offices are at the heart of our communities, and I urge the Minister to encourage all Government Departments to make more use of the Post Office.

I hear that message loud and clear. We are engaging with the Post Office and a number of suppliers about how they can help us with our agenda of encouraging more of our citizens to get online and become digitally capable—and to access Government services online, because that is the direction of travel that we are taking—as well as with the assisted digital programme, which will ensure that none of our citizens is left behind in that process.

One area of business that was taken from the post offices some time ago was the issuing of TV licences. Has the Minister had any discussions with his ministerial contacts about bringing that service back to the post offices? Many old people still do not have access to the internet.

As I have said, our conversation with the Post Office is about the broad agenda of digital by default, and about how we can get more of our citizens online. Some 11 million of them are estimated still to be offline, so that is a big challenge. Alongside that, programmes are necessary to ensure that people who do not want to be online can still access Government digital services. I am sure that the Post Office and others will be able to help us in that process.

Is the Minister aware that the National Federation of SubPostmasters has reported that the income generated by the Government services that its members provide is fairly small? I am all in favour of sub-post offices providing Government services, but the Government must surely be made to pay for that properly.

Obviously, if post offices are going to provide a service, they need to have the capacity to do that. I have had conversations with postmasters in my area. In the Pinner post office, for example, I have tried out the new technology that is helping citizens to get online and access services locally and to become more digitally capable, and I did not get a sense from that postmaster that there was a problem.