§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what response the Post Office has made to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on Post Office Counters services at Crown offices; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Newton
I am placing in the Library of the House copies of the Post Office's response to the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) on Post Office Counters services at Crown offices published on 23 June 1988 (Cmnd 398). The commission made 80 individual recommendations on various aspects of the operation of Crown offices and wider issues, namely: the organisation of the counters business; its financial management; the market for counters services; pricing; investment; the planning process; quality of service; productivity; management of Crown offices; manpower and industrial relations; the counters network; and automation.
The Post Office has accepted 68 of the commission's recommendations, closely related to the operation of the Crown offices themselves. My Department has now agreed a detailed timetable with the Post Office for the implementation of these recommendations in accordance with the standard procedures for follow-up of MMC reports.
Of the remaining 12 recommendations, the Post Office has rejected one and has reservations or qualifications about 11. Most of these remaining recommendations have implications beyond the immediate subject of the report. These include the impact of potential new business on counters; pricing arrangements with Government clients; the size and composition of the counters network; and automation; on all of which continuing consultation with Government is necessary.
As far as the single recommendation which the Post Office does not accept is concerned— the requirement that long-term client support should be an essential precondition to proceeding with installation of a major automation system—the Post Office recognises that client commitment is a desirable objective and will take the extent of this commitment into account in any strategic decisions which are made.
The MMC made several recommendations about the Crown office network, notably recommendation 61 that 266W counters should consider a much more substantial programme of regrading Crown offices. While the Post Office accepts the need for this consideration to be given, along with consideration of other planning options, it has made it clear that no decision will be taken on any regradings beyond the 250 currently planned until the success of the commercial contract and the response of staff in putting forward proposals for cost reduction have been received and evaluated.
I will be monitoring the Post Office's progress in carrying forward appropriate action on the recommendations, on the basis of reports in June 1989 and June 1991. I should like to take this opportunity to convey the Government's gratitude to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for its thorough and valuable investigation.