Tuesday 4 June 2019
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Post Office Network
I wish to provide an update to hon. Members on the steps that the Government are taking to ensure the long-term sustainability and resilience of the post office network.
The Government set the strategic direction for Post Office Limited, to maintain a national network accessible to all and to do so on a sustainable financial basis and allow the company the commercial freedom to deliver this strategy as an independent business.
We recognise the Post Office’s distinct social purpose and the important role post offices play in communities across the country, which is why our 2017 manifesto committed to safeguard the network, protect existing rural services and work with the Post Office to extend the availability of business and banking services to families and small businesses in rural areas.
Between 1997 and 2010 the post office network reduced in size by 37%, resulting in the loss of over 7,000 post offices. Since 2010 we have invested over £2 billion in the network. This funding sought to increase the viability of the network by making it more accessible, modern and tailored to customers’ needs while reducing the long-term burden on the taxpayer.
The Government have no programme of post office closures. Post Office Limited has opened over 400 branches since April 2017 and the Government are committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability and resilience of the network. We not only place a contractual commitment on Post Office Limited to maintain a network of 11,500 branches, but also stipulate stringent access criteria to ensure that this large network is accessible to citizens across the country. More than 93% of the UK population live within one mile of their nearest branch, with more than 99% within three miles.
There are now over 11,500 branches and the post office network is at its most stable since 2013, having changed in size by under 1% over this period. This overall change accommodates a level of churn in what is an extremely diverse network, as branches close and are replaced, and Post Office Limited is therefore used to working quickly with local stakeholders to provide replacement services.
Government subsidy ensures that branches serving our rural communities that need additional support receive it so that they can stay open. In order to provide value for money for the taxpayer the subsidy to the post office has reduced. This fact reflects the progress that the business has made: returning to profit after 16 years of losses, providing a stable network and reducing its reliance on the taxpayer.
Beyond 2021, Government remain committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the network and will work with Post Office Limited to achieve this.
It is crucial that running a post office is attractive and sustainable for postmasters, and they should be fairly remunerated for the services they provide. Post Office Limited’s successful renegotiation of the banking framework with 28 high street banks, announced on 15 April, secured a significant increase in the overall fees they receive from the banks. As a result of this, they will double and, in some case, treble the rate that agents receive for processing deposits from October 2019. For example, in a main post office branch, postmasters will receive £8.16 for processing a £8,000 cash deposit, compared with the £3.12 they currently receive.
98% of the post office network is franchised and postmasters are vital to the delivery of the network. The remuneration for delivering post office services should be combined with a successful retail offer in order for postmasters to thrive in today’s competitive retail environment.
The Government have rightly moved with the times as many of us now prefer to access services online. Whilst this has an impact on the Post Office, we cannot ignore people’s desire to transact with Government digitally from the convenience of their own homes. However, we are also committed to ensuring that its services are accessible to all citizens and the post office network does and will continue to play a key role in this.
We are committed to working with Post Office Limited and our postmasters to develop the business and offer, in order to maintain the delivery of services that our constituents want and need, so that the Post Office remains at the heart of communities across the country.
Independent Panel Report on Post-18 Education and Funding
Today I will provide a statement to the House, announcing that the independent panel, chaired by Philip Augar, set up to provide input to the post-18 review of education and funding has now published its report. The report is available in full on gov.uk and was laid as a Command Paper last week.
Student Finance: EEA and Swiss Nationals
I am confirming that eligibility rules for students from the EEA and Switzerland, and their family members, who commence courses in England in the academic year starting in August 2020 will remain unchanged. EEA/Swiss nationals will remain eligible for home fee status, undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for the duration of their course under the current eligibility rules. This will provide certainty to providers and their prospective students from the EEA and Switzerland.
This announcement also applies to funding for apprenticeships, advanced learner loans and further education 19-plus.
EEA and Swiss students and staff make an important contribution to our universities and it is testament to our system that so many students from abroad choose to come and study here.
Health and Social Care
Interim NHS People Plan
Today I am depositing in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of the interim people plan, which sets out the steps the NHS will take to ensure the health system has the people, culture and leadership it needs to deliver the long term plan.
The interim people plan has been developed by Baroness Harding, the Chair of NHS Improvement, in partnership with front-line staff, NHS employers and representative organisations including trades unions and royal colleges. The plan takes an unflinching look at the challenges facing people working across the NHS and, importantly, for the first time considers what action employers and NHS leaders need to take to make the NHS a great place to work. In future, careers in the NHS will better reflect the different lives, aspirations and expectations of those who choose to work in it.
In addition to the action the NHS will take to ensure the NHS is a great place to work, the interim people plan also sets out a number of practical steps the NHS will take now to increase the supply of clinical staff. A consultation is planned exploring proposals to introduce greater pension flexibility, which are designed to address disincentives that may encourage senior clinicians to limit or reduce their workloads whilst participating in the NHS pension scheme. A final people plan will be published soon after the conclusion of the spending review.
False and Authentic Documents Online System: Schengen Opt-out
The Government have decided not to opt out of the draft regulation that establishes a new legislative basis for FADO and repeals joint action 98/700/JHA.
This is a continuing measure and the Government value the benefits of FADO. It is a very useful EU tool which helps us to validate identity and travel documents, primarily for border, immigration and wider law enforcement purposes. It is a database which contains detailed images of genuine travel and identity documents issued by EU member states and false documents encountered at the border and elsewhere.
We have always been a key contributor to the FADO database and the draft regulation will ensure the continuity and development of FADO. The FADO system itself will remain fundamentally unchanged.
Until the UK leaves the EU we remain a full member, and the Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-out from EU legislation on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising the UK’s efforts to collaborate with EU on a security partnership once the UK leaves the EU.
Justice Devolution to Greater Manchester: Refreshed Memorandum of Understanding
On 31 May the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), signed a refreshed memorandum of understanding (MoU) for justice devolution with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).
This agreement replaces the current MoU, published in July 2016. It details the priority areas for the delivery of justice outcomes within GMCA. The commitments agreed between the Department (Ministry of Justice) and GMCA build on the previous agreement, recognise new challenges, and identify new opportunities for developing a broader, more integrated approach which improves outcomes and experiences for victims, witnesses, and offenders, as well as the communities and neighbourhoods in which they live.
The aim of the MoU is to increase local influence and improve partnership working to increase efficiencies and reduce reoffending. Delivery will take place within the context of the whole system approach to public services which is advocated by GMCA. The MoU fits with the Government’s priority to reduce reoffending and our 2017 manifesto commitment to further enhance the role of police and crime commissioners.
The areas covered in this refreshed MoU are youth justice, smarter justice, adult offender management and the victim’s journey. In summary:
With the aim of targeting resources where they can be most effective, the MoU focuses on adopting a preventive, problem-solving approach which puts the people in the right service at the right time. This includes establishing a local consortium to focus on resettlement from custody and prioritising specified cohorts in youth justice policy initiatives, including data sharing. The focus of this section aligns with the youth justice board (YJB) national standards which were published earlier this year.
We will work towards greater family involvement to support compliance with regular judicial supervision. Along with GMCA we will develop inter-agency planning to increase confidence in community sentences and ensure pre-sentence reports identify vulnerable cohorts. There will also be work carried out to help identify where family-centred principles are best integrated at different points in the system.
Reforming adult offender management
We want to optimise the opportunities created through the new probation model to improve delivery within the context of Greater Manchester’s unified approach to public services. This will include a programme of work to support increased viability of community disposals and to co-design approaches to delivery of probation services that support place-based integration. We will also explore co-commissioning options through the Greater Manchester reform investment fund.
The victim’s journey
We will work with GMCA as they seek to improve services for victims to provide a seamless service by using innovative approaches, including digital path- ways, jointly evaluating the effectiveness of nationally commissioned services for victims, agreeing a programme to develop stronger links and ways of working at local level for the benefit of witnesses in GM and working to understand the impact of the criminal injuries compensation scheme on victims of terrorism.
This summary covers the main commitments of the MoU. It is available in full at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/moj-gmca-memorandum-of-understanding-for-justice-devolution. Work will begin now to ensure we jointly deliver these commitments.