06 December 2006

S2M-4876 Rural Post Offices

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 6 December 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
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Rural Post Offices

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4876, in the name of John Swinney, on a threat to the rural post office network in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the public concern over the future of the rural post office network in Perthshire, Angus and other parts of rural Scotland; notes that the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provides a subsidy to the rural post office network in Scotland that is scheduled to be removed in 18 months' time; notes that, while the DTI provides this subsidy, other UK government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are taking decisions that reduce the volume and value of transactions that can be undertaken at post offices, thereby damaging the profitability of these post offices; recognises that if the rural post office network is not supported there will be severe economic loss and loss of amenity in countless communities in Perthshire, Angus and rural Scotland, and considers that the Scottish Executive should make representations to the UK Government to provide a stable level of support that guarantees the viability of the rural post office network.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Rural communities are at the heart of the debate. I have the privilege of representing one of the three parliamentary constituencies in Aberdeenshire, where some 57 per cent of people live in a rural setting, which is the highest rate of any mainland council area in Scotland. My constituency is not as remote as Jamie Stone's, but it is more rural than the Highland Council area, by 2 per cent. The debate therefore reflects absolutely the concerns of my constituents.

We have vibrant local communities. There are 32 community council areas in my constituency and communities in my constituency have won the Calor Scottish community of the year award twice in the past five years. There is a huge sense of community in the area. The first place to win the award was Whitehills. During my annual summer tour, I dropped in on the local post office at Whitehills to talk to Annette Addison, who is the postmistress there—I am sure that members know her well. In a community of 1,000, she gathered 900 signatures in an attempt to save the Post Office card account, which graphically indicates the value that the community of Whitehills places on the post office and the services that it delivers.

That happened when post offices had just lost the business of TV Licensing. It is worth putting that in context: in my constituency there are 42 local post offices, but Paypoint plc has only 28 terminals—a significant numerical difference. The situation is worse than members might think: only 10 of the Paypoint terminals are located outside towns that have a population of more than 10,000. The loss of TV Licensing has led to a dramatic drop in the service that is provided to our communities.

In New Deer—a community of just 500 people, which won the Calor Scottish community of the year award this year—an energetic local businessman, Mark Kindness, employs 60 people in a bakery. He has bought and invested in the post office in the adjacent village of Maud. He has done that because he thinks he can just about break even and because he sees the value of community, which is vital throughout Scotland. My constituency is a net contributor to the economy and the post offices are part of the infrastructure that makes our economy and sense of community work. To deprive communities of their post offices is like shutting down the railways in London, which are supported by the public purse as part of community infrastructure—a role which our equally vital post offices also have.


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