The Government recognise the critical role that post offices play in communities across the UK. This is why the Government have committed to safeguard the post office network by investing over £2 billion between 2010 and 2018, and a further £370 million from April 2018 to March 2021. I regularly meet Post Office representative to find innovative steps to secure network sustainability and the continuity of services across the UK.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but during the covid-19 pandemic, when sub-postmasters have proved just how essential they are to our communities, many are handing in their keys as they struggle to make a living, leaving communities without vital services. Pre-covid Post Office figures show that Scotland is still being hardest hit by the postmaster crisis, with the highest number of closed branches in the UK, increasing by 17% since last year. Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, in the 2020 spending review, will Ministers agree to maintain or increase the Government subsidy to post offices, to ensure that communities can access a post office branch, or will they continue putting the Post Office on a pathway to privatisation?
The Post Office is obviously made up of small businesses, which are subject to the same problems as any, and Scotland, with its rural nature, has been affected. That is why we look to temporary post offices and outreach. But clearly, going forward, the Government will reflect the value of postmasters and the post office network in all their deliberations.
Last week, the House united in calling for a judge-led inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal—hundreds of lives ruined and innocent people imprisoned by a trusted public institution—except the Minister, who proposes a forward-looking independent review, which will not mention managerial or ministerial accountability, Fujitsu’s responsibility or the key question of compensation. Now the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance is refusing to co-operate, saying it does not believe that the review will get to the bottom of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of our times. After all that those people have endured, will the Minister not listen to them and commit to a judge-led inquiry?
The hon. Lady is mistaken if she believes that the review does not look at the managerial responsibility of all the people responsible for what has happened, and we need to listen to the postmasters’ rebuke. Indeed, yesterday I discussed the matter in a meeting with chief executive Nick Read and Calum Greenhow, chief exec of the National Federation of Subpostmasters. Nick Read committed fully to the review, leaving no stone unturned, which is why I hope that with everyone coming together I can encourage postmasters to engage in the review so that we can get the answers they and the hon. Lady are looking for, to secure the redress and the answers that they need.