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Mr. Timms: I can certainly reassure the right hon. Gentleman on his first point. Those concerns have been raised with me on numerous occasions. The figures on the choices that people are making for receiving their benefits show that so far more than 60 per cent. of pensioners have indicated that they want a Post Office card account. That means that they have been able successfully to navigate the system by going through the call centre and have got to the stage of expressing a preference for a card account. There are not difficulties on the scale that had been feared.
What is interesting about that data is that if one considers recipients of other benefits, such as the jobseeker's allowance, child benefit and so onbenefits received by people of working ageone realises that the number of those who have chosen Post Office card accounts is much lower. That underlines the importance of the investment that we have made in new technology and other changes such as the work to open up a new range of products and make financial and other services available in post offices, because it is clear that younger customers in particular have different aspirations in relation to the post office from those who receive the state pension.
On the right hon. Gentleman's second point about the number of people who have opened and are using a Post Office card account, I share some of his concerns. We are therefore working with Post Office Ltd. and talking to the Department for Work and Pensions and the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters. All of us agree that we need to make sure that people are able to use those accounts, which they have clearly expressed an intention to use, as quickly as possible. That is in everybody's interest.
With the change that we have been making, we can see a way out of the heart of the problems that the Post Office has been facingbeing locked into a shrinking base of customers. Its task in Berwick and across the country is to continue to serve its traditional customers with excellence, which certainly has not been happening over the past seven months, and to attract new customers and give the network access to expanding banking markets, not just dwindling markets as in the past. That is the key to future success, and the groundwork that we have been laying provides a good prospect of that being achieved. I entirely share the concern that the right hon. Gentleman has rightly expressed on behalf of his constituents about the serious disruption in the service provided by the Post Office in his constituency, and I will do everything that I can to encourage Post Office Ltd. to bring those problems to a conclusion as swiftly as possible.