Byers promises safeguards for rural post offices

Stephen Byers promised to safeguard the future of rural post offices yesterday as the Government cane under pressure from all sides to prevent their closure.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said he would amend the Postal Services Bill next week in an attempt to provide a mechanism for financial assistance. He said: "This will enable the Secretary of State to set up a financial scheme to ensure that essential services can still be delivered through a nationwide network of local post offices.

"Our key target is that there will be a viable future for the network. It may well be that in the future, because of changes which are being introduced, financial assistance should be offered to the network." Under the subsidy proposal, the Government would be able to give financial help if the economic and social impact of a post office's closure would merit it.

Earlier, the Prime Minister told benefit claimants and pensioners that no one would be prevented from receiving their payments in cash at post offices, despite the switch to electronic transfers in 2003.

Speaking after the presentation in Downing Street of a massive petition against post office closures, Mr Blair said during Question Time that his pledge applied to weekly as well as monthly benefit payments. But the Tory leader William Hague dismissed his comments as "meaningless reassurances" and called on ministers to think again by opting instead for an earlier, Conservative, scheme of benefit swipe cards. He said: "We had a policy to save post offices, you have a policy to close post offices."

Mr Hague said thousands of sub-postmasters had brought the petition to London because the Government was presiding over "a record number of closures and a threat to thousands more post offices".

"Will you now listen to this wholly reasonable campaign for people to be able to receive benefits and pensions in cash at post offices without the compulsory use of bank accounts and introduce a proper swipe card system?" Mr Hague said.

Replying, Mr Blair insisted: "The Conservative government closed 3,000 post offices. They planned to privatise the Post Office and still plan to privatise the Post Office. Of course we all want to see post offices thrive. But we have to make sure that is done against the background of necessary modernisation.

"More people are going to want to draw their pensions, child benefit and other benefits, via their bank accounts. However, let me make one thing absolutely clear. No one will be prevented from still receiving their benefit in cash at the post office if they want to - and not just monthly, but weekly."

The Government adopted plans to spend £500m on providing rural post offices with computer facilities after it emerged that the Horizon scheme proved too inefficient and costly. Mr Blair said: "The last government did not actually introduce this system and let me tell the House why. When we came to office there was probably no greater shambles than that Horizon project.

"It was three years behind schedule. It was going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds more than the system we have got and it is a cruel deception of people in post offices to pretend that provided an answer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss