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Petitions

Volume 629: debated on Monday 16 October 2017

Petitions

Monday 16 October 2017

OBSERVATIONS

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Bangor-on-Dee Post Office

The petition of residents of Clwyd South,

Declares that Bangor-on-Dee Post Office is a central part of the community and that the services it offers are invaluable; and further that it’s closure will mean the loss of vital Post Office and banking services which will have a catastrophic effect on the rural community currently served by Bangor-on-Dee Post Office.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to make provisions to ensure that Bangor-On-Dee Post Office remains open and available for use by the community.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Susan Elan Jones , Official Report, 13 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 947.]

[P002056]

Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James):

The Government recognise the value of Post Office services to local communities across the country and appreciate the difficulty and frustration that any temporary loss in Post Office services can cause to the local community. The network is at its most stable in decades due to the significant investment that has been made to maintain and protect it. This investment has delivered the refreshed customer environments, increased opening hours and efficiency of operation which is needed to succeed in the competitive and changing markets in which the Post Office operates.

The Post Office is a commercial business operating in competitive markets, and we allow it the freedom to operate commercially on a day-to-day basis. This includes the provision and location of individual post office branches, which is the operational responsibility of the business.

Unplanned closures can occur because of a situation beyond the control of the Post Office and Government understand that following the resignation of the postmaster and the withdrawal of the premises for Post Office use, Bangor Isycoed Post Office temporarily closed on Wednesday 27 September 2017.

The Post Office knows how important Post Office services are to the community and apologises to customers for any inconvenience caused. The company is currently investigating options available which will enable it to restore services to the local community, and in situations where there has been a temporary closure, it works hard to restores services as soon as possible. This can take some time depending on the individual circumstances and any future service will need to be sustainable for the person operating the service and for Post Office. Any customers wishing to access Post Office services in the interim may do so from a convenient Post Office branch, including Pentre Maelor Post Office.

Drumchapel Post Office

The petition of residents of Glasgow North West,

Declares that Post Office Limited has announced that the Post Office on Hecla Avenue in Drumchapel is under threat of closure; further that this provides a vital service for many local residents, the loss of which would have a detrimental impact on the wider community in Drumchapel as well as causing concern for staff; further that whilst there is the opportunity to franchise the current office, this could endanger the ongoing provisions of services and jobs in the local area, as well as this branch's current convenient location in the heart of the community; and further that visiting the Post Office, it is noticeable just how busy the counters are and how strongly the community feels about this proposal.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to call upon the Post Office to halt any plans to close the Drumchapel Post Office and ensure that these services and jobs can be maintained and protected in the local area.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Carol Monaghan , Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1067.]

[P002033]

Observation from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James):

The Government recognise the value of Post Office services to local communities across the country and understand that any potential change to service provision can cause uncertainty for the community and that some residents may hold strong views regarding this. The network is at its most stable in decades due to the significant investment that has been made to maintain and protect it. This investment has delivered the refreshed customer environments, increased opening hours and efficiency of operation which is needed to succeed in the competitive and changing markets in which the Post Office operates.

The Post Office operates as an independent business and the Government do not play a role in the day-to-day operational responsibilities of the company, which include decisions on the provision and location of individual Post Office services.

The Post Office’s rationale in looking for a franchise partner for some of its Crown branches is to ensure continued access to Post Office services for customers in the area in a way that is sustainable for the long-term. It is important that the business can ensure it has the right branches in the right locations to respond to changing consumer and market demands. Communities do not lose their post office. It is either franchised on-site or relocated to a nearby location, often on the high street, typically offering the same wide range of Post Office services.

Franchising Crown offices has proven a successful approach in the past and working with a retail partner is a sensible response to the challenges facing high street retailers, with the benefit of shared overheads across the combined Post Office and retail businesses, including property and staff costs, with the host also benefiting from increased footfall and income from Post Office products. Before the Post Office considers franchising a branch it undertakes detailed work to assess its long-term viability. The vast majority of the network (over 97%) already operates on a franchise basis.

Both the Post Office and its franchise partners are committed to providing a quality service to their customers. Overall customer satisfaction levels with the Post Office across its network are good, with levels of satisfaction over service and wait time acceptability both consistently very high. A recent report on the network published by Citizen’s Advice found that former Crown branches are performing in line with or better than traditional Crowns, in terms of access into and inside the branch as well as the quality of service.

In line with its Code of Practice, when the Post Office has a viable proposal for the franchise it will conduct a six-week local consultation, which will give customers and interested stakeholders an opportunity to find out the detail of the proposals and to provide feedback, which can help the Post Office shape its plans. The Post Office considers all feedback received during its consultation process carefully.

Morningside Post Office Franchising

The petition of Edinburgh South,

Declares that the government has forced a transformation programme on the Post Office that has placed Crown Post Offices and local branches in jeopardy; further that the only independent report carried out on franchising found that the Crown Office closure and franchising programme had been bad for customers, ranking franchises worse than Crown Offices across a range of indicators including queue times, service times, customer service and advice on products, disabled access and staffed counter positions; and further that the Post Office has already spent money refurbishing the Crown Offices it is now closing and franchising, with £5.9 million spent since 2010 on refurbishing the 59 Crown Offices that the Post Office announced it would close and franchise in 2016, an average of £100,000 per branch.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to suspend the Crown Office closure and franchising programme and instead ensure the Post Office works with Crown branches, including Morningside Post Office, to make them more efficient and profitable.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ian Murray , Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1069.]

[P002039]

Observation from The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James):

The Government recognise the value of Post Office services to local communities across the country and understand that any potential change to service provision can cause uncertainty for the community and that some residents may hold strong views regarding this. The network is at its most stable in decades due to the significant investment that has been made to maintain and protect it. This investment has delivered the refreshed customer environments, increased opening hours and efficiency of operation which is needed to succeed in the competitive and changing markets in which the Post Office operates.

The Post Office operates as an independent business and the Government do not play a role in the day-to-day operational responsibilities of the company, which include decisions on the provision and location of individual Post Office services.

The Post Office’s rationale in looking for a franchise partner for some of its Crown branches is to ensure continued access to Post Office services for customers in the area in a way that is sustainable for the long-term. It is important that the business can ensure it has the right branches in the right locations to respond to changing consumer and market demands. Communities do not lose their post office. It is either franchised on-site or relocated to a nearby location, often on the high street, typically offering the same wide range of Post Office services.

Franchising of its Crown offices has proven a successful approach in the past and working with a retail partner is a sensible response to the challenges facing high street retailers, with the benefit of shared overheads across the combined Post Office and retail business, including property and staff costs, with the host retailer also benefiting from increased footfall and income from Post Office products. Before the Post Office considers franchising a branch it undertakes detailed work to assess its long-term viability. The vast majority of the network (over 97%) already operates on a franchise basis.

When making changes to a branch, the Post Office is aware of the needs of its customers, including its elderly and disabled customers, and works with the new partner to ensure that customer access both into and within the store meets Post Office’s accessibility standards and all applicable statutory requirements. Both the Post Office and its franchise partners are also committed to providing a quality service to their customers. Overall customer satisfaction levels with the Post Office across its network are good, with levels of satisfaction over service and wait time acceptability both consistently very high. A recent report on the network published by Citizen’s Advice found that former Crown branches are performing in line with or better than traditional Crowns, in terms of access into and inside the branch as well as the quality of service.

The Post Office regularly invests in all its branches to ensure they are in modern and secure retail environments. Investment made will have benefited customers and staff during that time and some of that investment will be transferable, for example such as with re-use of equipment and IT.

Defence

Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and High Town Barracks, Wrexham

The petition of residents of Wrexham in the constituency of Wrexham,

Declares that the petitioners recognise the long military tradition of Wrexham and North Wales and its relationship with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers; further declares that they are deeply concerned over the proposal to move the battalion headquarters from Wrexham to Bristol, and away from the area which has served the British Army and Wales for so many years.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to retain the current 101 Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Wrexham.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ian C. Lucas, Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1068.]

[P002035]

The petition of residents in the constituency of Clwyd South,

Declares that the petitioners recognise the long military tradition of Wrexham and North Wales and its relationship with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers; further declares that they are deeply concerned over the proposal to move the battalion headquarters from Wrexham to Bristol, and away from the area which has served the British Army and Wales for so many years.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to retain the current 101 Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Wrexham.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Susan Elan Jones, Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1068 .]

[P002036]

Observations from the Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster):

This decision to transfer the headquarters of 101 Battalion from Wrexham to Bristol has been made as a part of Army 2020 Refine, which is refining the Army’s force structures to deliver the commitments made by the Government in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015.

Army 2020 Refine continues our investment in the Army Reserve and sustains the successful pairing strategy between regular and reserve units envisioned by Army 2020. It also maximises the reserve presence in geographical areas that recruit well and has created two new reserve infantry battalions, and a new reserve engineer regiment will be established next year.

As a part of this approach, the Reserve Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) are being reorganised nationally to provide a smaller number of more technical specialists to support the warfighting division. The changes will result in the removal of three Reserve REME Battalions (104, 105 and 106 REME) and the transfer of the functions provided by the headquarters of 101 Battalion from Wrexham to Bristol. All personnel affected will be assisted to transfer to the co-located Royal Welsh Regiment or other units locally.

The Army remains committed to North Wales and the important and valued relationship with the region. Hightown Barracks Army Reserve Centre in Wrexham will continue to home a platoon from 3rd Battalion The Royal Welsh, a detachment from Wales University Officer Training Corps and a detachment of Clwyd & Gwynedd Army Cadet Force. There are also Army Reserve units in Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Caenarfon, and Queensferry.

North Wales also continues to be home to the RAF’s advanced fast jet training school at RAF Valley, where the runway was recently refurbished to extend its life by a further 25 years. Meanwhile, the Defence Electronics & Components Agency (DECA), based at MOD Sealand in North East Wales, was chosen as the global repair hub providing maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 avionic and aircraft components. Both emphasise the continued importance of North Wales to Defence.