§ 9. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab)
What new services have become available at post office counters since May 1997.␣
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)
The Government have given the Royal Mail Group greater commercial freedom. We have put in place new management—including for Post Office Ltd., which has been losing business for years—and the Post Office is introducing a number of new services, particularly in insurance, banking and telephones.
§ Hugh Bayley
Does the Secretary of State agree that, if the Post Office provides new services, it will attract more customers and be able to keep more branches open? How many banks have made arrangements with the Post Office whereby their customers can draw cash at post office counters? How many people have accounts with those banks and can therefore draw cash at post offices?
§ Ms Hewitt
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: new services, bringing in new customers, will make our post offices successful in future. Already, some 20 million current account holders with Barclays, Lloyds TSB and Alliance and Leicester can bank electronically at post offices, and I am delighted that that became 21 million banking customers yesterday because Clydesdale bank has now reached the same agreement with the Post Office.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
That is good news, but customers also want their post offices 1449 to be available to them in a convenient place. Has the Secretary of State any comment to make on the continued closure of Crown post offices such as the one in Frome, which has been situated in the marketplace for as long as anyone can remember? It will now be moved and put into the back of a newsagent's somewhere. That is bitterly resented by people in Frome, and there has been no consultation process that is worthy of the name. It was made quite clear right from the beginning that the Post Office would decide and that nobody in Frome would be able to change that decision, whether through petitions in the Somerset Standard or any other way.
§ Ms Hewitt
This is a matter for the Post Office, to which, as I have said, we have given commercial freedom. I regret the fact that Crown post offices have been losing so much money in recent years and I regret even more the fact that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would privatise the Post Office, which would undoubtedly make that situation worse.