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Volume 658: debated on Tuesday 9 April 2019


Tuesday 9 April 2019


Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Closure of Oldham Post Office

The petition of residents of Oldham,

Declares that we object to the proposal by Post Office Ltd to close our main Crown post office in Oldham town centre and relocate it to WH Smith; further that the proposed closure from its High Street location and relocation to WH Smith in Spindles/Town Square shopping centre is a nonsense as evident to anyone who uses the post office; further that the post office is a busy branch and well used; further that there is no public interest in closing it; further that even if some services will be relocated, services, staff and our high street will be compromised; further that not only will we lose a visible institution on our high street, the experience of post office services in WH Smiths tells us that it will be smaller, queues will be longer and services will be reduced.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Post Office Ltd to think again about the decision to close Oldham Post Office and to ensure that the consultation is genuine with the real concerns we have fully taken on board.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jim McMahon , Official Report, 27 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 459 .]


Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, (Kelly Tolhurst)

The Government value and recognise the important role that the Post Office plays in Oldham and other communities across the UK. This is why we committed in our 2017 manifesto to safeguarding the Post Office network and protect existing rural services. Since 2010, the number of branches in the network has been at its most stable for decades, at over 11,500.

While the Post Office is publicly owned, it is a commercial business. The Government set the strategic direction for the Post Office—to maintain a national network accessible to all and to do so more sustainably for the taxpayer—and allows the company the commercial freedom to deliver this strategy as an independent business. The management of the network and decisions on franchising are operational responsibilities for the Post Office. Operational decisions are made by Post Office Limited’s CEO and executive team, scrutinised by the Board and accountable to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for the overall performance of the business.

This strategy backed by Government investment of over £2 billion since 2010 has delivered unprecedented stability to the network. While we understand that changes to post office services can be a cause of concerns to some local residents of Oldham, the Post Office’s proposal to franchise Crown branches is part of its plans to ensure a sustainable network in the face of unprecedented challenges on the high street and changes in consumer behaviour. The Post Office must constantly evolve and modernise the network to meet customers’ needs with sustainable branches. While Crown branches are well used, the directly managed network was operating at a loss of £46 million in 2012 and franchising has been instrumental in removing those losses.

Franchising will help retain post office services on our local high streets throughout the country whilst bringing further investment and modernisation in branches and increasing convenience for consumers with extended opening hours and Sunday opening in most cases. Franchising is not a closure or redundancy programme and it does not mean that the Post Office is moving from public ownership. The community in Oldham, and indeed other communities across the UK, are not losing their post office. This will be relocated to nearby WHSmith branch, making services more accessible to customers.

WHSmith has been successfully operating post offices within its stores since 2017 and currently runs over 130 branches, demonstrating its proficiency to run the branch in Oldham. The franchise arrangement will bring extended opening hours and seven-day trading for customers offering a wide range of products and services with the exception of a cash machine. Although the existing ATM will not transfer, customers can withdraw money from the post office counter as part of the agreement with all the major high street banks. The nearest alternative external cash machine at a post office branch can be found approximately 1.4 miles away at Lees Road post office, 266 Lees Road, Oldham, OL4 1PA.

Regarding the Post Office’s consultation in Oldham, this ran for six weeks and closed on the 27 February. This process sought to inform, and gather views from, opinion formers and local stakeholders of the proposed changes to the network and to allow the public to inform the Post Office’s plans for the new branch. The Post Office also runs a customer forum to allow the public to speak to them directly. This process in line with the Post Office’s code of practice on changes to the network agreed with Citizens Advice. A recent review by Citizens Advice reported that the Post Office consultation process is increasingly effective, with improvements agreed in most cases, demonstrating that the Post Office listens to the community.

The decision resulting from the consultation will not be promulgated until after the response to the petition has been filed. However, once all the responses from the consultation have been reviewed and all feedback considered then the community, staff, concerned parties and individuals will be advised of the decision.

Community Energy Savings Programme: Lowestoft

The petition of residents of Lowestoft, Suffolk,

Declares that the Community Energy Savings Programme is causing us significant suffering: accruing detriments to our finances, health and wellbeing, and private and family lives; further that residents of Lowestoft particular grievance is with the standard of external wall insulation installed to certain properties as part of the Community Energy Saving Programme 2009 - 2012 (CESP); further that the CESP was a Government policy, set down in legislation, designed to improve domestic energy efficiency standards in the most deprived geographical areas across Great Britain; further notes that many vulnerable residents are having to live with the impact on our homes from the premature deterioration of the very poor installations; further notes that there is no evidence of appropriate training certification for the external wall cladding insulation and thus many residents are unable to obtain a valid guarantee/warranty which has affected the value of our homes and at worst has meant homes cannot be sold; further that the GCS Chartered Surveyors who were instructed to comment on the standard and workmanship of the external wall insulation have concluded that the external wall insulations do not meet system designer and BBA specification; further that the GCS Chartered Surveyors found the insulations were installed by MITIE Property Services who did not have approvals in place to install the system at the time; further that many partners are responsible for the failure of this programme including: MITIE Property Services, The Bright Green Lowestoft Organization, Waveney District Council, Suffolk Climate Change Partnership, Climate Energy Limited and npower; further that whilst the project was delivered by a number of partners the main contractors, MITIE, have overall responsibility for ensuring the installation is compliant to the system designer's specifications; and further that the installations were found to fall fault of numerous problems including: incorrect sealing, missing trims, faulty cladding and poor rendering.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to setup a means whereby each house be assessed by an external specialist ECO assessor and obtain redress for their individual issues, compensation for financial losses and have assurance our homes can be insured without penalties.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Peter Aldous, Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 854.]


Observations from the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, (Claire Perry):

Those who had poor installations under the Community Energy Savings Programme (CESP) should seek redress from the installer in charge of the work, in this case MITIE Property Services, which remains a functioning business.

CESP ended in 2012 and since then Government have taken big steps to change the design of policies to reduce the risk of poor installation.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) started after CESP and steps were taken to raise standards and improve consumer protection. The Government worked with the British Standards Institute to develop new standards for ECO installations. These went over and above building regulations to drive up quality and are an eligibility requirement of the scheme;

ECO requires that all solid and cavity wall insulation installations are accompanied by a guarantee—something not required under CESP.

The guarantee must: give financial assurance even if the company providing the original guarantee cannot honour it; provide sufficient coverage—at least 25 years and the replacement of the measure and any remedial work; and provide a verified quality assurance framework for the installation and the product which are independently verified.

The Government are going beyond the protections introduced under ECO. The Each Home Counts (EHC) review was commissioned in July 2015 and reported in 2016. The review has been a key driver in understanding what we need to change in the market and it identified the need for an independent, all-encompassing mark of quality that consumers can rely upon and trust.

This has led to a new Government endorsed quality scheme, being taken forward by TrustMark. The new scheme was launched last October and sets out a clear code of conduct for registered businesses delivering to households and it will be underpinned by rigorous new technical standards to tackle poor design and installation. These will be published this spring and, going forward, we plan that Government schemes such as ECO will require installers to deliver to these standards.