HC Deb 14 February 1983 vol 37 cc7-8
8. Mr. Cunliffe

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Post Office to discuss the investment programme for the industry.

The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to discuss with the Post Office chairman the corporation's investment programme, which has risen from £42 million in 1978–79 to £115 million in 1982–83 and is planned to rise to £130 million in 1983–84.

Mr. Cunliffe

Bearing in mind the improvements in productivity and service to customers, would it not be prudent for the Minister to embark on extra capital investment and expenditure for more new plant and facilities for the Post Office?

Mr. Baker

There has been a substantial increase in the Post Office's capital expenditure programme. It has trebled since we have been in office. That allows the Post Office to go ahead with its investment programme on such things as letter sorting equipment.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware that, once again, there is uncertainty and anxiety in rural areas about the future of small post offices and sub-post offices there?

Will he give an assurance that his Department is not examining any further programme of closure in that regard?

Mr. Baker

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks. The Post Office, rather than the Government, has to consider the size and scope of the network and the throughput of activity in sub-post offices.

Mr. Greenway

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anxieties of industrialists in my constituency about the last post collection being moved from 7 pm to 5.30 pm? Will he use his good offices to move it more closely to 7 pm, as much business is being lost?

Mr. Baker

I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of the chairman of the Post Office. He will appreciate that such details are for the management of the Post Office. If my hon. Friend is worried about help to industry, he will agree that the announcement today by the chairman of the Post Office that the increase of 1p for first class mail is to be held down to only ½p is a direct contribution by this successful enterprise to reducing the burden of costs on industry.

Dr. John Cunningham

Will it not become necessary for the Post Office to have more capital expenditure if it is to improve the rate of mechanisation—and, therefore, productivity—and the quality of service to its consumers, to develop new services such as datapost and to speed up the modernisation of the massive number of rural sub-post offices? Does the Minister agree that if sub-post offices are not modernised they will not be able to offer customers the services that they want and will therefore be likely to come under a threat of closure?

Mr. Baker

I should like to emphasise once again that the Post Office's capital expenditure for this year and next is at the highest levels ever. I take those remarks ill from an hon. Member who supported the Labour Government under whom the Post Office's capital investment programme was about £30 million a year. Next year it will be £130 million.