HC Deb 29 June 2000 vol 352 c608W
Mrs. Lawrence

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards post offices and its impact on Wales. [128580]

Mr. Paul Murphy

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry yesterday announced the publication of the Performance and Innovation Unit's report commissioned by the Prime Minister, "Counter Revolution: Modernising the Post Office Network", and the Government's response to this (Vol. 352, columns 907–11). The Government fully accept the PIU's 24 recommendations and will work in partnership with the Post Office and the devolved Administrations to build a bright future for a modernised network, including more than 1,500 post offices in Wales.

My right hon. Friend outlined today how the Government will act to protect a nationwide network of post offices: We are requiring the Post Office to maintain the rural network and to prevent any avoidable closures of post offices; We have made the budgetary provision to back up this commitment where necessary, on the basis of powers taken in the Postal Services Bill to give subsidies; We will provide funding to improve post offices in deprived urban areas and sustain post offices and retail facilities in deprived urban areas. The National Assembly for Wales will receive a share of new funding available in England and will be responsible for deciding whether it wishes to implement similar proposals in the urban post offices in Wales; We will work with the Post Office and the devolved Administrations on pilot schemes to use post offices as sites for information on Government services and internet access learning points; We want the Post Office to set up a Universal bank to help address the problems of financial exclusion. This will be the vehicle for delivering our pledge that people will still be able to get their benefits in cash at the Post Office after the switch to Automated Credit Transfer; £480 million has already been invested in HORIZON, a project to automate the entire Post Office network by next spring.

The Government want the Post Office to work creatively to seize new lines of business suggested in the PIU report, such as the Universal bank, one-stop shops for Government information and transactions and the opportunities offered by e-commerce, so the network is not dependent on subsidy. However, Government funding will be available to support our proposals as necessary and we have identified funding in the current spending review. Precise figures will be announced in July as part of the Spending Review.

Most of these proposals are for the UK Government to take forward with the Post Office, although some will be for the Assembly to decide on. In areas which fall within the Assembly's policy remit, Wales will receive a share of any new funding and it will be for the Assembly to decide how it uses that money. I am in close contact with the First Secretary on this matter and the Assembly will no doubt wish to make its own announcement in due course.

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