The Government recognise the importance of post offices to rural communities across the UK and are committed to the post office network’s future. The Post Office offers targeted financial support in recognition of the unique challenges of running a rural post office. Postmasters who run community branches that are the last shop in the village can receive packages combining fixed and variable remuneration to reflect their special circumstances.
Post offices in my rural villages of Newick, East Dean and Alfriston are still temporarily closed because the Post Office local model, on a transaction-fee basis, is not enticing potential postmasters. Will the Minister look at returning to a community-based Post Office model to help these post offices to reopen?
The Government have invested significantly in post offices in recent years. While there is no programme of post office closures, some unexpected closures, for some reasons beyond the control of the Post Office, as in my hon. Friend’s constituency, can occur. Work is currently under way in regard to her constituency, and there is hope that the services will be restored. I will also ask the Post Office to liaise directly with my hon. Friend on those issues.
Given that many rural post offices are barely profitable if they are profitable at all, is it not time for Ministers to consider giving business rates relief to all rural post offices—in particular, those housed by the Co-op movement, which continue to provide a service to local communities?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have doubled permanent small business relief and increased the threshold at which businesses pay business rates. We are investing in community branches. The Post Office has launched a smaller community branch development scheme, which is guaranteed to benefit another more than 700 post offices. We will keep working with the Post Office to make sure that we maintain our network of 11,500.
It is true: it has been too long since I have had the opportunity to visit my hon. Friend’s part of the country. I have met some of his colleagues to talk about post office opportunities in the south-west. As I have already reiterated, we are committed to delivering those rural post offices.
As the Minister will be aware, in the Postal Services Act 2011 the House has already given its in-principle agreement to mutualise the post office network. Will she indulge a former Post Office Minister and agree to meet me to discuss how the powers in sections 4 and 5 of the Act could be used to take forward this exciting policy innovation?
The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct: the Post Office is at the forefront of looking at new ways in which it can modernise and increase the services delivered through our post offices. I will be more than happy to listen to any suggestions that he has—so, yes, of course, at some point I will meet him.