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Government U Turn on the Post Office Card Account

November 24, 2008 3:38 PM

A letter to local papers from Jacquie Bell, Parliamentary Spokesperson

Stockton South Liberal Democrats

The last year has seen a scythe through the UK Post Office network with thousands of branches closing, including at Long Newton.

There was potential for thousands more to close had the Government continued with its tendering process, with a decision already delayed, for a similar basic account scheme and awarded the contract to any other company than the Post Office. This would have been in addition to functions already lost.

Over the years I have continually supported Post Offices remaining payment points for benefit. At Federal Lib Dem conferences I have regularly spoke in debates and introduced policy.

The loss of the Pension Book caused difficulties for many - some of whom have to be paid by less secure giros. However, the loss of the Post Office Card Account (POCA) would have been more devastating. Millions across the UK opt for this method of payment. Many have found it difficult to open POCA accounts as calls can push them to have payments made into the bank. However, not everybody can have easy access to a bank and some people e.g. on limited income find it hard to get a bank account.

On 10th November Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott introduced an Early Day Motion/Opposition Debate calling for the continuation of POCA. Early Day Motions (EDM) need support to get debated and 47 labour MPs signed this EDM. On the day all but a few brave Labour souls towed the party line and voted against the motion. This included Stockton South MP Dari Taylor. Other parties Lib Dem, Conservative, Scots and Welsh nationalists voted for it. The motion was defeated. The Labour MPs voted instead for an amendment praising Government support for post offices and continuing the tendering process.

On 13th November the Government announced the continuation of the POCA contract to 2015. The tendering process has ended and those who applied to run the contract will be paid compensation. The cost to taxpayers will run into millions.

I support the continuation of the POCA contract. However, the bungled tendering process has been expensive for taxpayers, those applying for the contract and a source of anxiety for post masters and mistresses and POCA customers across the UK.

I wonder why Labour u - turned - maybe the realisation from Monday's debate that many from a cross party spectrum care about the Post Office network and that the loss of POCA and thousands more post offices would mean a hit at the ballot box?

Yours sincerely

Jacquie Bell (Mrs)

Parliamentary Spokesperson

Stockton South Liberal Democrats

07772 383564