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Petitions

Friday 22 February 2008

Observations

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Post Office Closures (Harrogate)

The Petition of residents, employees in and visitors to the Borough of Harrogate and Knaresborough and all those seriously concerned about the decision of the Post Office to review the future of Cold Bath Road Sub Post Office at 109 Cold Bath Road, Harrogate HG2 0NU,

Declares that the importance of this Sub Post Office to thousands of people living, working in and visiting Cold Bath Road and surrounding areas, including the more elderly and disabled; recalls this Office was retained when the Harlow Hill Sub Post Office was closed; and reminds Members of Parliament of the number of closures of Local Sub Post Offices in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area over recent years.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to make clear to the Post Office the importance of this Office continuing as a Sub-Post Office and the benefit of withdrawing as soon as possible any proposals which put at risk any of the existing services provided from this Office.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Mr. Phil Willis , Official Report, 9 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 490.] [P000103]

Observations by the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform:

The Government fully recognise the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why it is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this. The Government have been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003.

In its response to the consultation on the Post Office network the Government announced in May 2007 confirmation of its decision to extend funding of up to £1.7 billion to 2011, including provision of £150 million social network payment to support the post office network up to 2011. The Government strategy includes provision for 2,500 compensated closures and 500 new outreach services.

The 500 new and innovative outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Nevertheless, to ensure
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sustainability, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

Post Office Limited (POL) is responsible for implementing the network change programme at a local level. It is developing a rolling programme of some 50 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of parliamentary constituencies. The first area plans went out to local consultation on 2 October last year and these plans will continue to be rolled out at regular intervals until August with the whole programme scheduled to take around 15 months to complete. The consultation period for North Yorkshire ended on 17 January and Post Office Ltd announced final decisions on 8 February. The Cold Bath Road branch will remain open. Post Office Ltd has published their decision in the area plan booklet for North Yorkshire with Yorkshire East and Keighley area, which is available on their website at: www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange. POL develops its proposals with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and the consumer watchdog, Postwatch, and takes into account the numeric access criteria set out by Government as well as local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc when drawing up its implementation plans. POL is also required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on the local economy. Local consultations provide the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.

The Government do not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices. No decisions on individual post offices are taken until after local consultations. Those decisions are made by POL in light of the responses to the consultation, while subject to a four-stage appeals process involving Postwatch. The review process for closure decisions after public consultation process applies where Postwatch shows that, for an individual branch:

The aim of the review process is for POL and Postwatch to reach an agreed way forward by bilateral review, with three stages available at increasing levels of seniority. A recent addition to the review process provides that the chairman of the Royal Mail Group will review the issues for those cases that remain unresolved after the third stage, and reach a final decision.

Health

Smoking Ban (Rossendale)

The Petition of customers of the Swan Hotel, Bacup, Rossendale,

Declares that the smoking ban is having an adverse effect on the social structure and enjoyment within their local pub, the Swan Hotel; they consider it a valuable asset within the local community.


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The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to introduce amending legislation to provide for the landlord of the Swan Hotel placing a sign on his door depicting the pub as a ‘smoking establishment’ giving customers the right to choose whether to enter or not.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Janet Anderson , Official Report, 31 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 548.] [P000113]

Observation s from the Secretary of State for Health:

So far it would appear that the smoke-free legislation has been highly successful and indeed has been welcomed by the vast majority of the population. It is protecting people, particularly bar staff, from the harm done by exposure to tobacco smoke. We know that it will save thousands of lives. It has been heralded by many as the most significant public health intervention for a generation.

A report has been published on the impact of the smoke-free legislation during the first months following implementation on 1 July 2007. This is available on the Smokefree England website at: www.smokefreeengland.co.uk

This report summarises details of the public opinion research, business research and compliance data since smoke-free law was introduced on 1 July 2007.

Data indicate there has been a smooth transition to smoke-free public places and workplaces in England, with high levels of support from the general public and businesses. Three quarters of adults expressed their support for the law and 79 per cent. believe the new law will have a positive effect on people’s health.


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Specific surveys of businesses indicate that 98 per cent. of businesses are complying with the new law, 87 per cent. thought implementation had gone well and 91 per cent. believe the law will be obeyed.

It may be that some pubs are not as profitable as they used to be. This has been the case in this country for some decades as people’s idea of a good night out changes with the generations. The hospitality sector has changed to reflect these changing tastes.

We have seen no significant evidence to suggest that smoke-free legislation either in this country, or in others where similar legislation has been in place for some years, will create any long-term economic problems for pubs or for the hospitality trade in general.

Evidence in fact suggests that it is likely to be prevailing economic, structural and cultural issues, rather than the introduction of smoke-free legislation, which will be primary cause of any significant decline in the pub sector.

In preparing the smoke-free legislation, we considered the wider economic and social impact of taking action on second hand smoke. A Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) was published alongside the Health Bill in 2005. The RIA contains estimates of costs and benefits of legislation to end smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. A copy is available on the Department of Health website at: www.dh.gov.uk.

We will continue to monitor the impact of the smoke-free legislation, with a full review due to be completed within three years of July 2007.


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