HC Deb 05 May 2004 vol 420 cc1327-8
5. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

What discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly about proposed Post Office branch closures in Wales. [169186]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend and I hold regular bilateral meetings with the First Minister and other Assembly Ministers to discuss a range of issues, including the impact of the post office network reinvention programme in Wales.

Ann Clwyd

The post office at Abernant in my constituency is the only shop in the village, the only community centre and the only bank, and 70 per cent. of the people in the Cynon valley claim their benefits through post offices, so it is a retrograde step on the part of the Post Office to shut such a facility in an impoverished area. I hope my hon. Friend will join me in opposing that closure.

Mr. Touhig

I have taken a close interest in the network reinvention programme, as we all have because it has affected our constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met and has also written to the Post Office management underlining the important social role of post offices and the need for proper local consultation, particularly in the case of communities such as the one my hon. Friend represents, where any closure may impact on elderly, disabled and disadvantaged people. We will continue with those discussions. I know that the closure in Abernant is opposed by Postwatch. I hope that the campaign in which my hon. Friend is involved is successful, and that she succeeds in keeping the post office open for her constituents.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)

The Minister will be aware that three post offices in my constituency were under threat—Penrhos, Glanrhyd and Cwmphil road. The Post Office has now decided to keep Glanrhyd open and to close Penrhos, which was the one that served the most deprived community, but it has given us no reasons for its decision. Will the Minister help us find out what reasons lie behind the Post Office's decisions in these matters?

Mr. Touhig

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am ever the diplomat in these matters, but the discussions that I have had with the Post Office on closures have not always been entirely fruitful, and in face-to-face discussions with Post Office representatives I have left them in no doubt what I think of their consultation. A number of colleagues in the House have had face-to-face meetings with Post Office representatives and, as a result, they have extended the consultation period and ensured that Members of Parliament and Assembly Members are given advance notice, but in the interests of our constituents we should not let up in our efforts to ensure that there is proper and adequate consultation, that everyone's views are taken into account and that we have the best possible post office network. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a great deal of money has been put into the network reinvention programme—about £16 million in Wales—which will benefit the overall network at the end of the day.

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