In a vigorous debate on the future of the Post Office network last night
(Tuesday 13th January) in the House of Commons, Conservative and Labour MPs
in Staffordshire slammed the Government for their handling of Post Office
closures. Mark Fisher MP (Stoke Central, Labour) told the Minister that a
closure strategy "may exist in your head, but it is not happening in
practice". Brian Jenkins (Tamworth, Labour) complained that deprived areas
which are highly dependent on Post Offices are being treated badly. And
Michael Fabricant, who wound up the debate for the Opposition as Shadow
Economic Affairs Minister, says there "is no strategy nor coherence in the
way Post Offices are being closed. Deprived areas like my own in Chase
Terrace are highly dependent on Post Offices to claim benefits and are now
seeing them close."
But speaking from the Despatch Box, Michael also pointed out that funding
for the preservation of the 9,000 rural post offices is also in jeopardy.
The funding support runs out in 2006 and Michael asked the Minister whether
it would continue after the next election. He said that MPs of all
political persuasions are united that "The post office network is an
absolutely vital part of our social fabric, and it must be preserved."
He went on to ask the Minister (Stephen Timms) a series of questions.
"What will be the future of the 9,000 rural post offices after 2006? Will
funding continue, or does Labour plan to abandon rural post offices after
the next election? Why have the Government not intervened over the manner in
which urban post offices are being closed; or, despite what the Minister has
heard today, does he still believe that all is going well? What steps will
he take to ensure that future closures are properly consulted on, in order
to meet local needs? And when will he intervene to ensure that the direct
payments system works properly? Will he change the procedure to make
applications for card accounts simpler and quicker? Will he ensure that the
22-stage questionnaire is abolished? Will he insist that the PIN pad be
changed to enable disabled and blind people to use it more readily? And will
he meet his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure
that Post Office card accounts become an equally attractive alternative to
Worryingly, the Minister evaded answers to these questions.