Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton post office closures rasied in Parliament

PUBLISHED: 14:43 05 June 2008 | UPDATED: 09:06 10 June 2010

Post office closues

Post office closues

Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton post officers earmarked for closure have been championed in Parliament by East Devon MP Hugo Swire

Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton post officers earmarked for closure have been championed in Parliament by East Devon MP Hugo Swire

Speaking about the post office closing the two local branches, Mr Swire told the Government it had 'failed' in its promise to rural-proof its policies and programmes.

Mr Swire addressed Westminster with a debate on the subject of post office closures in his constituency before the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal services, Mr Pat McFadden, (Wolverhampton South East).

The MP asked the Minister if the Prime Minister was genuinely listening to what the people wanted rather than just indulging in a 'cynical public relations stunt'.

"Rural needs are not being consistently addressed through policy making," said Mr Swire. "The countryside is facing many challenges which are simply not being taken into account.

"The Government criteria have given specific protection to Post Offices in urban deprived areas, but neglected to introduce a similar provision for rural deprived areas. Why? Government should surely recognise that in some rural areas deprivation is just as acute and therefore reassess the need for rural deprivation criteria.

"Rural areas receive a significantly lower level of per capita public investment than urban areas even before the additional disadvantage of rural population sparsity is factored in."

In the debate Mr McFadden replied by saying the issues raised by Mr Swire were primarily for the Post Office and Postwatch to deliberate on.

Defending the charge that the Government had failed to 'rural proof' its policies Mr McFadden said: "When we started the closure programme we could have closed those branches that required the largest subsidy per transaction. Those would be in remote rural areas in which the subsidy per transaction is sometimes up to £17 per transaction.

"Every time someone buys a stamp, there is a taxpayer subsidy of £17.

"However, because we value the social side of the network, we have used access criteria - which means 95 per cent of the total rural population across the UK must be within three miles of a post office branch. That preserves a service which is very far from being commercially viable. Without the access criteria, more rural post offices would close, not fewer. Despite the difficulty for his constituents, the programme has been carried out in a planned way so that we have a stable network in both rural and urban areas in the future."

Having secured the debate Mr Swire raised the plight the post offices which are threatened with closure in his constituency - St Andrew's Road, Exmouth, Greenway Lane in Budleigh Salterton Millwey Rise in Axminster, and Offwell.

On each one he highlighted their importance in serving the surrounding local community.

"In 2000 this government made a clear and continuing commitment to rural proof its policies and programmes," said Mr Swire "And yet the commission for rural communities has repeatedly reported that they are disappointed in the overall performance of government departments in meeting this commitment.

"Stuart Burgess, the Prime Minister's very own so-called 'rural advocate' has himself warned that poorer people in the countryside 'form a forgotten city of disadvantage'."

Mr Swire sought the debate to boost the public consultation process - now in place - which calls on local residents to submit their views.

He has also launched a campaign locally and on his website to help save those post offices that are threatened.

Mr Swire said there was an imperative need to stress how important it was for the local consultation to take full account of the needs of rural communities if any restructuring process was to have legitimacy or prove successful.

He added it was unfortunate the way communities were being pitted against each other in a 'dog-eat-dog' style as they are forced to work to save only their own post office.

"The loss of the last remaining service hub in a village would be a critical threat to social interaction and the informal social support it can generate. This argues for more sensible and more sensitive criteria such that other services in the area - a village store, petrol station with retail, a pub and so forth - are taken into consideration in any closure decision, alongside the stricter distance criteria as proposed," said Mr Swire.

"It is also wrong that the consultation period is six weeks rather than three months, as recommended by the Cabinet Office guidelines. The time allowed for local consultation is insufficient, and without due consideration for those who rely on Post Offices. "The closures will serve to further fracture community structure and make life increasingly difficult for older people and the most vulnerable.

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