Post Office Services Debate
I was delighted to make a (unexpected but I was glad to speak!) contribution to a debate today on Post Office services.
I spoke about the importance to our diverse East Renfrewshire communities of Post Office services, including access to cash, and the particular need for this service to be available to those who are more vulnerable, and perhaps find it more difficult to get about. A local Post Office can make such a difference to so many residents and businesses, and these are critical to the sustainability of our local town centres.
I also mentioned the need for these businesses to be made sustainable, and for lessons to be learned following the Horizon Scandal, which was shocking, and could put people off taking on Post Offices, just as we very much need them to do so.
It was great to be able to mention just a few of our communities in the debate. I spoke about the fantastic visit I had recently to Barrhead Post Office which, as I said, has a wonderful shop as well as providing very personal and caring service to those who use it, and the well deserved award Tariq from Netherlee Post & News received for his fantastic community support during Covid, and the ever moving Clarkston Post Office, hopefully now settled in one place at Barry’s at Clarkston. I was also very pleased to raise the continued and focussed campaigning of Broom Kirkhill Mearnskirk Community Council for Post Office services, for which they should be commended, as they focus on the needs of their local community.
My contributions included:
"That broad range of stakeholders my hon. Friend has just told us about reflects the fact that a broad range of communities are still focused on the need for post offices in their local areas. Does she agree that we must heed the asks of community organisations? @Broom, Kirkhill and Mearnskirk Community Council is keen to secure post office services in its local area, because it knows how much they matter for the most vulnerable in our society, as she said"
"The hon. Gentleman is making a really important point. The post office has a place right at the heart of our community, especially in difficult times, in my constituency, which is not remote. Tariq Chishti of Netherlee post office has received an award for going above and beyond during the pandemic to support people who were having real difficulty. The staff at Barrhead post office, which I visited recently, have done the same. The Minister should really take heed of the hon. Gentleman’s point about the community at large—all of the community—requiring this service and benefiting from it. That is at the heart of the debate"
"but I am very happy to speak and to wax lyrical about my local post offices. As you have called my name, Mr Betts, I ask for your indulgence to speak briefly.
This is an incredibly important topic, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for asking for this debate, and to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this discussion. We often talk about post office closures in the all-party parliamentary group on post offices, which, as my hon. Friend said, is a wide-ranging APPG. That really speaks to the great significance of post offices in all our communities.
I do not want to labour points that others have made, but as a Member representing a constituency with a number of population centres, all with their own diverse needs and geographies, I know that the importance of post office services to my constituents cannot be overstated. I have constituents who live in rural areas where it may be difficult for them to get to a post office, and the closure of post offices in some of these outlying areas has created significant difficulty, particularly for elderly and vulnerable people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) raised the issue of the “stop-start” nature of post office services and the impact that has on communities. It has caused significant concern in Clarkston in my constituency, for example. We have a post office operating there now, which is very welcome, but it has been something of a movable feast over a number of years.
I mentioned that I had visited the post office in Barrhead. I will dwell on that briefly, because it was really fantastic to go out and meet the people working in the post office, and to see what they do day to day in terms of helping people and providing access to cash. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about constituents receiving real individual support from the people working in the post office, and I saw that for myself when I visited the post office in Barrhead, which is a great shop as well as a post office—if anyone is in the area, I absolutely recommend going along. That human contact and personal knowledge of customers was evident there. We cannot afford to lose that. Even in that big, thriving town, access to cash is an issue. We have many elderly and vulnerable residents, and we need the support that the Barrhead post office provides for our community.
I mentioned the support that Tariq Chishti provided from his post office, Netherlee Post & News, and I think it is telling and well deserved that he received an award for his work during lockdown. Many of our communities relied on the people who became focal points of their local area by going above and beyond what could ever be reasonably expected of them to ensure that people were okay in those difficult times. It is no surprise that post offices were at the centre of that. They are at the centre of our communities, and the functions that they provide are so very important. I am keen to hear from the Minister about the various actions that Members have asked for to try to secure the position of post offices, to ensure that they are sustainable, and to deal with issues overhanging from the Horizon scandal, which make it very difficult for people to see this as a sustainable business opportunity for them."