Iain Duncan Smith condemns the proposals to close George Lane Crown post office in the House of Commons and calls for innovation and flexibility - for example the Post Office could be used for further Government activity such as advice about benefits.
I will be brief. I completely support my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who initiated the debate. He has made all the basic national points. I also support much of what the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) said about his post office.
I am here because it has been announced, although I do not think I received any specific notice of the proposal, that the Crown post office in George Lane in my constituency is to be closed. Ironically, it is situated very close to a sorting office, which I understand the other side of the fence now wants to shut. We will therefore have a serious blight in the area. With the loss of the post office, people who want to pick up parcels will perhaps have to go all the way up to north Chingford, which is some distance away and the traffic is never that easy. We will have a real calamity on the high street.
It is worth reminding the Post Office and the Government that post offices are part of the chain of integral elements in a high street which, bit by bit by bit, are being removed. The banks have disappeared, and now, in many areas and even in my own, there is real pressure to get rid of small industrial estates, which are vital to the life of communities because people who work in them use the high street during the day, to find their food, to shop generally and so on. There is continuous life there. The post office is an integral element because it brings people into the community, particularly elderly people who do their shopping there. The high street will therefore suffer as a result of the closures.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, there are much better ways to do this. The absence of any sense of innovation in the Post Office is remarkable, given that it owns prime sites that could be used flexibly. When I was at the Department for Work and Pensions, I wanted to persuade the Government to allow post offices to be used for outreach. The Post Office was utterly negative about the idea and did not want to entertain it, but the Government need to press it again. With terminals where people, particular the elderly, could receive at the very least reasonable advice about benefit claims, post offices could easily be utilised for further Government activity, beyond all their other work.
The banking side is another consideration. About five years ago, the Post Office was told absolutely clearly by the Government that if it came back with positive responses about how to set up a banking facility, it would be given a reasonable hearing. It took a year for it to come back with absolutely no response whatsoever, except to say—this was connected with the Post Office card account or POCA—that it did not think it was feasible for the Post Office to do that. All along, there has been negativity from the Post Office regarding any ideas about using its facilities in ways that could genuinely increase its revenue and make it more flexible.
Nearly eight years ago in my community we lost a sub-post office in the high street. We were told, “Don’t worry, the Crown post office will be able to take all that business”, and now we find that that post office is about to close as well, leaving us with no postal service at all in the area. I, the community and the unions are absolutely adamant that that is the wrong way to go. The Post Office must think again, and I call on it be more flexible and reasonable.