Draft Post Office Network Subsidy Scheme (Amendment) Order 2024

Published date : 17 April, 2024
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this afternoon, Ms Vaz. The Scottish National party is happy to support the measure before us. I would like to place on record our strong support for the post office network and everybody who works in that network to provide the services it does. Post offices provide an absolutely vital public service at the heart of each community in which they are located.

Post offices are certainly at the heart of those communities. While I certainly would not underestimate their importance in the urban communities that we serve, they have a particular significance in the rural communities that we serve, where they may indeed be the last commercial premises in a settlement. With the retreat of banks, post offices have all too often become the cash handlers of last resort for people and businesses. It is absolutely vital that the existing level of service and coverage provided by the Post Office is not diminished in any way, and that the Post Office is, wherever possible, in a position to expand both coverage areas and the services provided from each post office.

We wholly accept that the subsidy is required in order to provide that level of service. However, it remains a matter of regret that in recent years there has been a reduction in the services that the Post Office has been allowed to offer, affecting the business that can be transacted at any post office, particularly with the retrenchment in the financial services products that the Post Office is able to offer. That has placed additional pressures on operators, and has arguably sometimes made it less attractive to run a post office operation. I certainly do not think it could be argued that it has done anything to reduce the overall levels of subsidies required to support the network.

As I say, I am happy to support this measure on behalf of my party, but I would seek assurances from the Minister, in common with Opposition spokespeople, that this revised cap—albeit a significant uplift in the cap—will not impede the delivery of compensation for anyone affected by Horizon, should sudden rapid progress be made, in terms of the amounts that need to be paid out and the number of settlements. I also seek assurances that the level the subsidy is capped at will not impede the ability of the Post Office to carry out business-as-usual operations. If it looks likely that either or both of those scenarios should transpire, we will be back to look at increasing the subsidy cap, should that be required.

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