Labour vs. SNP Record

1.    HEALTH

SNP’s record on health

  • Health secretary Alex Neil was caught red-handed meddling in the decision making process in his local health board area, NHS Lanarkshire.
    • Labour lodged a vote of no-confidence which was backed by all the opposition parties.
    • Spend on private healthcare has gone up by 37% under the SNP to over £80million in 2012/13.
    • A&E waiting times are not being met – in March 2014, only five health boards achieved the waiting time standard of 98% of patients seen and admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within 4 hours.
    • Rather than supporting NHS Boards to achieve the targets, the SNP downgraded the 98% to an interim target of 95% – which is still not being met by all NHS Boards.
      • The number of patients waiting four hours or more to be treated has almost trebled from 36,000 in 2008/09 to 104,000 last year.
      • According to Audit Scotland in May – “Delays in A&E can be a sign of pressure across health and social care.”
      • Cancer waiting times are not being met – the standard that 95% of patient should wait a maximum of 62 days from receipt of an urgent referral with a suspicion of cancer to first cancer treatment is not being met and the median wait is now 39 days.
        • Patients and families face more anxiety and delays as a result.
        • The out-going leader of Scotland’s doctors in June said of the NHS: “What I have seen over the past five years is the continuing crisis management of the longest car crash in my memory”.
        • In March 2014, 89.6% of measurable patient journeys, were within 18 weeks, compared to 90.6% in March 2013. This is the first time national performance has dropped below the 90.0% standard since its introduction in 2011.
        • Scandal of seven to 15 minute care visits.
        • Delayed decision on banning the use of mesh implants by a year, which meant hundreds more women will have received them.

 

Labour’s record on health

  • Between 1999 and 2007, Scottish Labour doubled per capita health spending, elevating it to record levels.
  • By 2007, there were nearly 700 extra doctors and over 5,000 extra nurses. We addressed low levels of morale by increasing pay and introducing better working conditions.
  • We made Scottish Health Boards more accountable, introducing a statutory requirement to consult with the public about changes to services, and ensuring local councillors sat on health boards to safeguard local democracy and accountability.
  • We introduced free personal care for the elderly and quadrupled investment in support for unpaid carers, to £23.7 million.
  • We led the UK in banning smoking in public places.
  • We invested hundreds of millions of pounds in new hospitals and GP surgeries, resulting in faster and better treatment for patients across Scotland. When we left office:
    • Waiting times were at their lowest level ever in Scotland, with half of all NHS patients experiencing no wait at all and seven out of ten patients treated in less than 3 months;
    • All hospital in-patients were treated within  18 weeks (a target achieved a year ahead of schedule);
    • The delayed discharge of patients had been reduced by 73% since 2002;
    • Patients were guaranteed an appointment with a GP or nurse within 48 hours;
    • Nurse-led advice was available 24 hours a day.
    • Significant progress was made in tackling Scotland’s three “big killers” – cancer, heart disease and strokes. Between 1997 and 2007:
      • Cancer deaths among under-75s fell by 15% ;
      • Stroke deaths among under-75s fell by 40%;
      • Heart disease deaths among under-75s fell by 45%
      • Our approach to improving Scotland’s health focused on prevention:
        • We enhanced pre and post-natal support, and became a world leader on breastfeeding by making it an offence for a mother to be stopped for breastfeeding in public;
        • We provided free water and fruit in nursery education, as well as supervised tooth brushing;
        • We introduced the Hungry for Success healthy school meals programme, underpinned by legislation guaranteeing nutritional standards in school meals.
        • We removed all branding from vending machines.

 

2.     EDUCATION

SNP’s record on education

  • The SNP have not released the full costings for their ‘flagship’ childcare proposals, they refuse to publish their modelling and they have delayed the date for increased childcare provisions for vulnerable 2 year olds (the legal duty date as set out in the CYPB).
  • The SNPs focus on hours is at the expense of quality and flexibility.
  • The SNP have cut pre-school, primary school and, in particular, secondary school spending in real terms since 2007 (-8.1%, -2.6%, -8.6% respectively).
  • The SNP have presided over a real terms decline in spend on teachers with 4,000 teachers lost from Scottish class rooms since 2007.
  • The implementation of CfE put teachers and pupils under unreasonable pressure.
  • There has been a decline in numeracy attainment under the SNP.
  • The SNP have failed to tackle the attainment gap between young people from most deprived areas and the least deprived areas (in numeracy, literacy, overall tariff score and positive follow up destination).
  • Care leavers have been failed by the SNP (care leavers attainment and positive follow up destination are significantly lower than for all school leavers).
  • SNP has maintained the higher education budget, but only at the expense of the further education budget, which has been slashed by around £67 million in real terms.
  • College learning hours have been cut by 10 million hours in the last 3 years.
  • There has been a 37 per cent decrease in college student numbers (headcount) since SNP came to power in 2007.  As a result 140,000 people have lost out on going to college.
  • 25 – 59 year olds have suffered the most, but no age group has been unscathed by SNP indifference to colleges.
  • The SNP have significantly reduced grant support for students resulting in a considerable increase in student debt, particularly for students from the lowest income homes.
  • Low income university students in Scotland receive the lowest amount of grant in the UK. Low income university students in Wales receive £5,161; in Northern Ireland they receive £3,475; in England they get £3,387 but in Scotland the same group of students only receive £1,750. The SNP’s White Paper has made no mention on the issues of student grants.
  • Student lending, and therefore student debt, was 58% higher last year than the previous year, rising by £159m from £277m to £436m.
  • Under the SNP Scotland has the highest proportion of students dropping out of university in the UK (2012 figures).
  • Scotland has the lowest percentage of university entrants from the poorest backgrounds (26.2%), and the lowest proportion of entrants from state schools (86.9%) in the UK.

 

Labour’s record on education

  • When we left office in 2007 universal free early years education had been introduced, with all Scottish 3 and 4 year-olds entitled to 412.5 hours of free childcare per year.
  • The biggest school building programme in Scotland’s history was underway – over the course of two parliaments, we built 320 new and refurbished schools.
  • Scotland’s teaching workforce had increased by over 2,000, with 53,000 in post by August 2007.
  • Class sizes in primary schools had been reduced to 30 pupils or fewer.
  • The importance of teachers was recognised and valued – average salaries increased by more than 30% between 1999 and 2007, and new avenues were opened for career development within the profession.
  • Teachers were given the freedom to teach, with more classroom assistants, learning support staff and increased levels of administrative support alleviating the bureaucratic burden.
  • By age 15, young Scots were amongst the World’s best in literacy, numeracy and science.
  • The Educational Maintenance Allowance had been introduced to help pupils in difficult financial circumstances stay in education.
  • Scotland had the highest proportion of young people entering higher education in the UK, and one of the highest levels in Europe.
  • Spending on higher education had been significantly increased, including a 400% increase in university capital budgets, helping them to modernise and become internationally competitive.
  • Paid maternity leave had been increased from 13 weeks in 1997 to 39 weeks in 2007.

 

3.     INFRASTRUCTURE

SNP’s record on infrastructure

  • Under the SNP Government in 2013 the lowest number of homes was built since 1947.
  • SNP slashed the housing budget and now 2,000 more households are living in temporary accommodation.
  •  The SNP Government voted against Labour’s amendments to make the Living Wage a requirement for workers when firms bid for public sector contracts.
  • John Swinney axed Glasgow Airport Rail Link, a major transport project that would have boosted the economy and created jobs. It was later revealed that cancelling GARL cost £30 million.
  • Dualling of A9 was a flagship manifesto pledge which they have failed to deliver and other transport projects such as Borders railway and EGIP are significantly delayed and Caledonian sleeper franchise award has been disastrous.
  • Weak Procurement Reform bill – which failed to outlaw blacklisting or prevent the use of zero hours contracts on public sector workers.
  • Refused to include a cap on rent increases in their Housing bill, this would have given protection to thousands of people who rent their home across Scotland.

 

Labour’s record on infrastructure

  • In Government, we invested significant funds in Scotland’s rail network, resulting in new lines, new rolling stock, enhanced safety measures and improved timetabling. By 2007, rail passenger numbers were at their highest level since 1964.
  • We commissioned the Airdrie-Bathgate line, the Stirling-Alloa line [recommend remove ref to S-A line; this line has had a high number of problems since it opened], and the Waverley Station upgrade.
  • We also delivered free Scotland-wide bus travel for older people and introduced a young persons’ concessionary travel scheme. We increased the number of bus passenger journeys after decades of decline.
  • Recognising the difficulties faced by island communities, we introduced the Air Discount Scheme. As of 2007, almost 14,000 island residents had benefited from this scheme.
  • Our Route Development Fund created dozens of new direct air routes into Scotland, boosting the business and tourism industries.
  • We provided funds to local authorities to pay for thousands of small-scale schemes to encourage walking and cycling, including crossings, pedestrian areas, cycle lanes or advanced stop signs.
  • In 2002, Scottish Labour introduced the most progressive homelessness legislation in Europe, enshrining in statute our ambition to end homelessness. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2002, which required Scottish local authorities, as of January 2013,  which gave all councils across Scotland a duty to provide ‘settled accommodation’ to anyone who is unintentionally homeless, led to significant investment in affordable housing and improved homelessness services.

 

4.     LOCAL GOVERNMENT

SNP’s record on local government

  • Alex Salmond’s Local Income Tax would cost a family with two people on an average wage £550 more a year than they pay now.
    • Since the SNP came to power, every council in the country has had a real terms cut to funding.  The effects can be seen in cuts to services, increased charges for local people and the loss of almost 40,000 jobs in seven years.
    • SNP’s underfunded council tax freeze has seen councils either cut local services back or charge for previously free services.

 

Labour’s record on local government

  • We ensured that local authorities had the necessary funds to provide essential services with year-on-year increases to the local government grant.
  • Established a formal working agreement between ministers and councils based around parity of esteem and partnership.
  • Created a framework was set up to improve strategy and efficiency through Community Planning and Best Value legislation.
  • We gave local authorities a more prominent role in community leadership, placing the promotion of partnerships in delivery of public services on a statutory basis.
  • Paved the way for the introduction of a proportional electoral system for council elections, based on the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, and a change in the minimum age for standing as a councillor from 21 to 18.

5.     SOCIAL JUSTICE

SNP’s record on social justice

  • Child poverty has increased under the SNP, with 30,000 more children in Scotland living in poverty in 2012/13 than in 2011/12.
    • 19 per cent of children in Scotland were living in relative poverty in 2012/13, an increase from 15 per cent the previous year. In 2012/13, there were 180 thousand children in Scotland living in relative poverty, 30 thousand more than in 2011/12.
    • Scottish Government failed to act quickly enough to prevent hundreds of Scottish households being threatened with eviction as a result of the bedroom tax.
    • For more than a year Scottish Labour called on the Scottish Government to make available the £20m that would mitigate the full impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland. John Swinney’s approach was to let households suffer rather than let the UK Government “off the hook”.  It took the introduction of Jackie Baillie’s Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) Bill for the SNP to act.
    • Fuel poverty budget underspent despite 900,000 households living in fuel poverty.
    • Energy Action Scotland estimate 900,000 homes were in fuel poverty in 2012.
    • Fuel poverty is increasing as energy prices rise at three times the rate of inflation.
    • The Scottish Government is not going to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 -the target set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.
    • Discretionary housing payments have in some areas been poorly used and our most vulnerable people have been prevented from accessing vital funds.
    • The Scottish Welfare Fund has been substantially underspent, at a time when the need is self-evident. Ministers have been singularly incompetent at getting the money to the people who need it most.
    • Accused of tokenism by promoting two female ministers to full Cabinet posts rather than replacing any of the male Cabinet male members.
    • Failed to deliver 50% of women on public boards despite Ministers being responsible for all appointments and failed to meet the 40% target of the number of applications from women.

 

Labour’s record on social justice

  • We showed what can be achieved when Governments at Holyrood and Westminster share the same aims and ideals. Working closely with our Labour colleagues at Westminster, Scottish Labour alleviated poverty and promoted greater equality, experiencing greater success in reducing poverty than the rest of the UK.
  • Under Labour Governments at Holyrood and Westminster:
    • Living standards rose, with Labour’s tax credits lifting thousands of Scots families above the poverty line;
      • Between 1999 and 2007 200,000 more people found work under Labour in Scotland
      • The number of pensioners living in poverty reduced from one in three in 1997 to one in five in 2007
      • Long-term youth unemployment was virtually eradicated.
      • After thirteen years of Labour Government in Westminster, there were 600,000 fewer Scottish children living in relative poverty (i.e. as compared to an average income) than in 1998-99. This represented the largest fall in child poverty of any EU country over the period. The number of children living in absolute poverty (i.e. in terms of the cash coming into the household) halved under Labour.
        • The Labour-led Scottish Executive achieved a greater fall in child poverty than anywhere else in the UK. By 2007, Scotland had the lowest poverty rate of any region in the UK.
        • We achieved this by focusing help where it was needed most, introducing:
        • above inflation increases in the basic state pension and pension credit;
        • free central heating
        • the warm homes programme
        • Free personal care for the elderly;
        • The National Minimum Wage (which we subsequently increased);
        • The Winter Fuel Allowance;
        • Free nationwide bus travel for the elderly.
        • Between 1997 and 2010, Labour managed not just to halt the seemingly inexorable rise in levels of child poverty, but was able through a concerted and determined effort to reverse this long-term trend.
        • We ended years of discrimination and prejudice by repealing clause 28, which banned councils and schools from teaching and promoting homosexuality.
        • We were ahead of the curve in our efforts to tackle financial exclusion, quadrupling membership of credit unions in Scotland.
        • The Labour Government of 1997-2010 emphasized work as the best route out of poverty and towards prosperity. We didn’t do this by harrying and hectoring, but by giving people a helping hand, formulating the concept of “progressive universalism”, which ensured that whilst many people benefited from our policies, the poorest benefited the most.
        • We invested heavily on initiatives to incentivise work, making it easier for people to enter and stay in the labour market (for example, lone parents), and helped to make work pay through the introduction of the minimum wage and tax credits to top up low wages:
          • We introduced In-Work Credit which provided a weekly bonus to help lone parents in their first year back to work.
          • We devised “New Deal” Welfare-to-work programmes for the young unemployed, lone parents, long-term unemployed, and partners of the unemployed.  In addition to the New Deals, in Scotland we introduced employment programmes for ex-offenders and lone parents with complex needs.
          • In order to alleviate the strain on working parents, we introduced a childcare element to Working Tax Credit, which meant that working families on lower incomes could claim back up to 80 per cent of the cost of a registered childcare place.
          • In 1999 we increased the rate of Child Benefit for the first child in each family. We also replaced Family Credit with a more generous Working Families Tax Credit. A new Working Tax Credit was given to low paid workers regardless of whether they had children.
          • We also introduced major changes to parental leave and pay, and rights to request flexible and part-time working, to make it easier for women with children to remain in work. 

In addition we:

  • Increased income support for pensioners and extra benefits such as winter fuel payments.
  • Established a more generous second state pension for low earners.
  • Provided central heating for every socially rented home and re–insulated most socially rented homes through its warm homes programme.
  • Introduced and allocated £16m towards the Rough Sleepers Initiative to assess the extent of rough sleeping and implement proposals to address those needs. As a result, by 2003 there was no need for anyone in Scotland to sleep rough.

 6.     JUSTICE 

SNP’s record on justice

  • Justice Secretary claimed routine arming of police officers was an operational matter and should not be brought before parliament despite widespread outrage.
  • SNP have closed local courts impacting on communities dependent on jobs and they have closed 61 police front counters effectively taking away local policing.
  • Pushed through Offensive Behaviour at Football Act despite opposition from anti-sectarian groups including Nil by Mouth and community groups.
  • Rise in number of people aged over 35 dying from drug use.
  • Closed fire station control rooms and centralised the service meaning call takers are often unaware of local issues.

Labour’s record on justice

  • Scottish Labour was committed to making our communities safer and achieving a fairer and more efficient justice system. Our major achievements in office included:
    • A record number of police officers on Scotland’s streets: 1,500 more than in 1999;
    • 20,000 fewer crimes recorded by the police in 2007 than in 1997;
    • We established then expanded the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement agency giving them enhanced powers and resources;
    • Communities across Scotland afforded new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour, with the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Dispersal Orders and Closure Orders.
    • We undertook a root and branch review of the criminal justice system which reduced court delays and the use of unnecessary witnesses, and ended automatic early release from prison.
    • We worked to keep dangerous weapons off the streets, leading the way on knife crime by affording the police additional powers to stop and search those suspected of carrying a knife. We also doubled the maximum sentence for those convicted and introduced a licensing scheme for the sale of non-domestic knives.
      • We encouraged stronger links between the police and the communities in which they operate through Community Safety Partnerships.

 

7.     ENVIRONMENT AND RURAL AFFAIRS 

SNP’s record on the environment and rural affairs

  • The Scottish Government has ruled out including agricultural business rates relief within the wider land reform.
  • The Scottish Government still hasn’t supported Labour’s calls for extended community right to buy.
  • The Scottish Government has achieved a hat trick of missed targets after latest climate change emissions reported a rise compared to the previous year. This is embarrassing for a Government that continues to herald the targets as world leading.
  • Failure to take the step change needed has seen a rise in emissions and it is becoming increasingly clear that more action is desperately needed. The first three targets were the easiest for this government to meet yet they have missed all three, the next target must see a significant drop in emissions yet there are real concerns the Government hasn’t achieved this.
  • Committee on Climate Change reported in March that the SNP were failing to meet their targets and they would either have to “revise their targets, or introduce more polices and proposals”.
  • In recent years we have seen a reduction in food safety samples taken by councils (08/09 – over 16,000, 11/12 – 10,236).
  • The number of food inspectors has dropped by over 50% since 2003, (170 to 75); there has been a 21% drop in the number of food safety officers employed by local authorities in past 4 years and a 11% fall in the number of environmental health officers.
  • There is currently too much focus on our export market; we need to see a joined up strategy that links local produce to our export market, tackles food poverty and Scotland’s poor level of obesity, benefits our environment and ensures that public money is being used for public good.
  • Announcing the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy the Scottish Government announced that they will only transfer 9.5% of funds from pillar 1 to 2 despite the potential to transfer up to 15%. Pillar 2 funds can be used to help rural communities and deliver environmental gains. In comparison Wales went for the full 15% and England decided on 12%.
  • The Scottish Government’s wildlife legislation does not seem to be working, it is time for a full and frank review now rather than wait until next year.
  • The 2013 air quality monitoring results found a high number of areas across Scotland are in breach of air quality safety standards.
  • It was reported that air pollution is a contributory factor in over 2,000 deaths in Scotland annually.
    • Recent reports highlighted that Edinburgh might not meet its target until 2020 (10 years late), whilst Glasgow might not reach theirs until 2025.
    • The Scottish Government has a big role to play in ensuring that our planning and transport policies are robust enough to ensure a reduction in emissions and that Scotland’s targets are met, however we still waiting for them to bring forward their air quality action plan.

 

Labour’s record on the environment and rural affairs

  • Land Reform was a central challenge of the early devolution period, and one which Scottish Labour did not shirk:
    • We abolished Feudal Tenure, replacing it with a simple system of land ownership. In so doing, we removed 800 years of accreted legislation, the vast majority of which had become unnecessary and obsolete;
    • We established new land access rights (the right to roam);
    • We introduced the community right to buy, which has enabled rural communities to take responsibility for the land on which they live and work;
    • We enhanced the rights of crofters and made it possible to create new crofts, allowing young people to enter crofting and helping to preserve a traditional way of life.
    • As the Scottish Executive we passed legislation that ensured the protection of our nature and environment. This included the introduction of Scotland’s two, now world famous, National Parks in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms.
    • We also introduced a biodiversity duty that applies to all Scottish public bodies and office holders and provided the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy a statutory basis. We also included proposals to strengthen the protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interests (SSSIs).
    • We created a single all-Scotland public water authority in Scottish Water in 2002 through the merger of regional water authorities. The new body provides drinking water to over 2.2 million households, whilst also treating waste water before returning it to the environment. We also safeguarded public health by creating the post of Drinking Water Quality Regulator.
    • Scottish Labour has always taken the issue of animal welfare very seriously. It was Scottish Labour that introduced a ban on fox hunting in Scotland, two years before a similar ban was introduced in the rest of the UK.
    • Scottish Labour also passed legislation to ensure the ability of Scottish Ministers to prevent and react to the outbreak of infectious animal diseases such as foot and mouth.
    • We introduced the need for keepers of animals to ensure the basic needs of their animals are met and making it illegal to sell an animal to a person under the age of 16. Following this Act the Labour led Scottish Executive also banned the docking of tails in all dogs.
    • We introduced an aquaculture strategy in 2003 with the view to improving regulation of the sector in Scotland. From that strategy we passed acts such as Aquaculture and Fisheries which introduced new powers to control sea lice and escapes from fish farms. It also has a statutory underpinning of codes for good fish farming and shellfish farming practice.
    • Even in opposition Scottish Labour has been pushing forward on environmental and rural affairs issues. We held the first Land Reform debate in Parliament since the SNP came into power in 2007 and forced them to re-launch their review group with a wider remit. We also held the first air pollution debate since SNP came into power. Following the recent and abhorrent killings of raptors in Scotland we passed a motion that would ensure the Scottish Government would conduct a review of wildlife legislation across the world with a view to strengthening our laws in Scotland.

 

8.     FINANCE AND THE ECONOMY

SNP’s record on finance and the economy

  • Unemployment remains high and of particular concern is the high youth unemployment rate which has failed to recover.  Between 2008 and 2013, unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds in Scotland increased sharply, rising from 58,600 to 81,100.
  • Underemployment continues to be an issue as people look to work more hours. In 2008 the level of underemployment was 174,500 but by 2013 it had risen to 243,100.
  • The number of people in part-time jobs has increased by 47,571 since 2007 and the number of temporary employees has increased by 6,983.
  • Compare Scottish and UK growth since the third quarter of last year Scottish growth has averaged 0.59% per quarter over the two quarters while UK growth is faster at 0.73% per quarter.
  • Scottish Government refused to back Labour’s energy price freeze (which would save families an average of £120 a year and then failed to turn up on a vote on energy in the Commons.

 

Labour’s record on finance and the economy

  • Devolution helped transform Scotland’s economy. Under Labour administrations at Holyrood and Westminster, Scotland’s economy grew every year between 1997 and 2007. More than 250,000 jobs were created, and by 2007 Scotland’s employment rate was better than the UK average, higher than every G7 country and the highest in the Euro zone.
  • Labour established the National Minimum Wage. In 1997, 85,000 Scots earned less than £2.50; thanks to the introduction of the Living Wage, thousands of Scottish workers were lifted out of poverty.
  • By 2007, Scotland’s financial sector employed 220,000, having grown by 36% between 2002 and 2007 – a rate of growth twice the level of the UK as a whole.
  • We believe that those with the broadest shoulders should contribute most. Having already cut the basic rate of income tax, we introduced the new 50p additional rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 per year.
  • We also introduced the one off Bankers’ Bonus Tax (the bank payroll tax) which generated £3.5 billion.

 

9.     CULTURE, SPORT AND EXTERNAL AFFAIRS

SNP’s record on culture, sport and external affairs

  • Alex Salmond refused to meet with the Dalai Lama but heaped praise on Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin.
  • Alex Salmond was the only senior politician who chose to meet with Rupert Murdoch, after it had been revealed Murdoch’s newspaper had hacked Milly Dowler’s phone. Mr Salmond welcomed Murdoch at Bute House for tea and biscuits in Edinburgh in 2012.
  • In April 2010 an Audit Scotland investigation set out to review The Gathering’s financial management, including a decision by the Scottish Government to loan £180,000 to the organisers behind the event. It was revealed that the Scottish Government did enquire if the company could repay the loan before writing the cheque.
  • Alex Salmond tried to keep secret the cost of his taxpayer funded luxurious hotel costs on his trip to the Ryder Cup in Chicago. He dismissed demands to reveal how much he spent at the five-star Peninsula Hotel as “ridiculous frippery”. A newspaper subsequently disclosed that the First Minister spent £3,000 for four nights with his wife in the hotel – paid for by the taxpayer.

 

Labour’s record on culture, sport, external affairs

  • We enhanced Scotland’s cultural and sporting profile, more than doubling investment in cultural activities.
  • We established the National Theatre of Scotland, and presided over successful campaigns to host the Ryder Cup and the MTV Europe Awards. We also laid the foundations for the (successful) bid to host this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
  • We recognised music’s potential to enhance children’s social, cultural and artistic development, establishing the Youth Music Initiative which entitled all school children access to a year’s free music tuition by the time they reached Primary 6.
  • We built on Scotland’s historic links with Malawi by signing a co-operation agreement allowing us to align our devolved responsibilities with Malawi’s developmental requirements.

Naming Ceremony for HMS Queen Elizabeth

I recently attended the naming ceremony of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was there for the official naming.

This was a wonderful feat of engineering for all six yards, both north and south of the border. I want to pass on my congratulations to all those who worked on it, and in particular, the 2000 employees at Scotstoun yard.

Here are a few photos from the event, with MPs representing the constituencies holding the other two Scottish yards, Ian Davidson MP (Govan) and Thomas Docherty MP (Rosyth), among others.

John Robertson MP on board with Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign

John Robertson MP showed his support for a campaign led by the charity Guide Dogs to make travelling by bus easier for people with sight loss.

The MP for Glasgow North West went to a reception at the Houses of Parliament on 2 July in support of Guide Dogs’ campaign to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers.

The reception, which was addressed by Bus Minister Baroness Kramer, highlighted how announcements enable blind and partially sighted people to understand their location, and prevent them from missing their stops.

AV systems are only fitted to around one fifth of the bus fleet nationally, with the overwhelming majority of these buses operating in London.

Guide Dogs is calling for the Government to require all new buses be fitted with AV, as currently bus operators are under no obligation to include this technology when upgrading their fleet.

John Robertson MP said: “Blind or partially sighted people in Glasgow and across the UK are reliant on our buses, and we should be doing all we can to make public transport accessible to them. We all know the anxiety caused from ending up somewhere unfamiliar, and this can be all the more concerning to people with sight loss. I think this is an essential campaign from Guide Dogs.”

James White, Guide Dog’s Campaigns Manager, said: “Buses are a lifeline for people who are blind or partially sighted, and we welcome the support of John Robertson MP for people with sight loss to be able to travel safely and independently.”

“Without AV, bus travel for people with sight loss can be especially difficult, stressful, and dangerous when stops are missed and they end up in an unfamiliar area.”

“Safe and accessible bus services give people with sight loss much greater freedom to work, socialise and participate in the community.”

A message on Armed Forces Day

Today on Armed Forces Day people up and down the country will gather to recognise, remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the British Armed Forces community.

Our Service personnel work around the world in some of the most dangerous situations to defend Britain’s interests and national security. Just like those before them, they do so with unequivocal commitment, enduring professionalism and resolute courage.

But the sacrifice associated with military life is rarely endured alone – we must not forget the impact on the friends and families of those who serve too. They provide invaluable support to loved ones away from home and the contribution they make to local communities should never be underestimated.

Update from Westminster – 19th June 2014

This week: Referendum news and Energy

Local MP John Robertson supports drive to reach carers in Glasgow North West


John Robertson MP has pledged his support to carers across Glasgow North West as part of the national awareness campaign Carers Week, which runs from June 9 to 15.

One in eight adults are carers, but the very nature of caring – of being there for a loved one facing ill health or disability – means too often people don’t identify themselves as carers and, therefore, miss out on support.

Without the right help and support, caring can have a serious impact on their physical and emotional health, work and finances.

Carers Week Quest 2014 is calling on individuals and organisations across the UK – including community groups, GPs, health and social care professionals, employers – to connect with families in their local communities who are providing care.

To show their support for local carers, John Robertson MP met with the Carers Week supporter charities in Parliament – including Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson’s UK.

Local MP, John Robertson, said: “Carers make a hugely valuable contribution to society and they need support to carry on the work they do – without carers the UK would face a £119 billion care bill. That is why I am supporting this campaign to reach out to carers across Glasgow North West and help ensure they don’t miss out on support.”

A spokesperson for Carers Week said: “By individuals and organisations working together during Carers Week we have a huge opportunity to help thousands of carers and get them support which can mean the difference between coping and crisis.”

Events will be taking place across the UK during Carers Week in June, to provide carers with advice, information and support with caring. To find out more about events in Glasgow North West visit: www.carersweek.org

- Carers Week 2014 runs from Monday 9 to Sunday 15 June.

- Carers Week is an annual UK-wide awareness campaign which takes place to celebrate and recognise the vital contribution made by the UK’s 6.5 million carers. It is also a time of intensive local activity with thousands of events planned for carers right across the UK. In 2013 more than 2,600 organisations registered to take part in the campaign.

- Across the UK 6.5 million – 1 in 8 people – are caring for a loved one who is older, disabled, terminally or seriously ill. As the population ages, the number of carers is rising fast. By 2037 Carers UK estimates that the number of carers will have risen to 9 million.

- Carers Week is made possible by Carers UK joining forces with Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Skills for Care and the Stroke Association.

CALL FOR EVIDENCE ON METER READERS

Energy MP calls for examples of rogue meter readers, following suggestions that some make up the numbers.

John Robertson MP has been contacting the main energy companies to find out their policy towards meter readers that do not physically check the property. Prepaid meter customers do not receive monthly bills or estimates and so are most at risk of false reads.

Mr Robertson said: “While there are robust processes in place to prevent rogue meter readers, according to a whistleblower there seems to be some instances where readers can keep inputting numbers until they get the right one.”

“I’m not sure if this is a big problem and so I want to hear from you. Have you found yourself with a meter reading that is completely off? Have you complained about this to your energy company? Or have you had no problems at all? I want to know.”

The information gathered will be taken to the Energy and Climate Change select committee, which Mr Robertson is a member of. All responses can be sent to johnrobertsonmp.meterreaders@gmail.com.

Newsletter – January 2014

Happy New Year

I would firstly like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families and restful and prosperous New Year. The year to come is going to be extremely important for our country, not least because we will decide whether to become independent or stay part of the United Kingdom in September. I have been working hard for the Better Together campaign because I believe that, while we could ‘go it alone’, we shouldn’t. We are stronger together and as a nation Scotland is well placed to receive all the benefits of being part of a strong world power, while being able to decide on issues such as law, education and health through a devolved system. Crucially, as part of the UK, Scotland attracts investment, bringing jobs to the local economy, and I think we would be putting ourselves at risk by cutting our links to such an important part of our economy.

Finally, in our constituency, and across Scotland, we have the Commonwealth Games to look forward to. Glasgow is the perfect city to host these Games and I know Glaswegians will welcome our international visitors with open arms. Whether your sport is cycling, gymnastics, table tennis, or one of the many other sports on offer, I hope you are able to enjoy these Games coming to our city.

Glasgow North West

Active Seniors AGM


I was pleased to be invited to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Active Seniors Group, based at DRC Generations at Kingsway. Many thanks to Robert Smith, their coordinator, and all the Committee for all the good work.

Meeting with BAE Systems

Anne McTaggart MSP and I held a meeting with BAE Systems at the Clyde Shipyards to discuss the future of the site. It was an informative meeting and we discussed, primarily, the effect their decisions would have on jobs in the area. There are three different projects that are being put together but they are still to finalise which one they will be going for. Some options are better than others, but the arguments for and against are for another day. What is important, is that jobs in Scotstoun are secured. However, it is important to note that this all depends on the result of the referendum: an independent Scotland could not guarantee these contracts.

With Anne McTaggart MSP outside BAE Systems, a vital business in our community

Royal Mail Delivery Office Visits

I visited two of the local Royal Mail Delivery offices in the run up to Christmas. Firstly G13/14 office, which covers Knightswood, Yoker, Scotstounhill, Jordanhill & Whiteinch, was very busy on the day I visited with postal packets and parcels, due to the amazing growth in online shopping. Also visited was G15 Delivery office, which covers Drumchapel and Blairdardie. This office contains the new letter sorting machines which sequences the mail for the delivery postman – saving them time in preparing the mail for delivery. Many thanks to Paul Turner, manager G13/14 and Freddie Mains G15 manager, and all the staff at both delivery offices.

G15 Delivery Office

Parliament

Failure to protect customers

In Glasgow we had our share of the bad weather over Christmas and New Year, and across the country thousands of people were left without power for days on end. UK Power Networks, which supplies houses in the south of England, admitted they hadn’t done enough to get power back on and that too many engineers had gone on holiday over Christmas. This simply is not good enough and so we in the Energy select committee will be calling the company to speak to us about it. The energy networks are often out of sight of ordinary people, but it is important that we shine the spotlight on them as they provide such a vital service. I have had detailed feedback on the actions of SP Energy Networks, which supply to our houses, over the period. But hopefully, this evidence session will act as an additional warning that networks need to provide an excellent service all year round. We rely very heavily on them keeping the heating on and their holiday leave will need to be structured accordingly.

Ticket Touts

There have always been people trying to sell on tickets for a higher price to make a profit. Before the internet, this was annoying but not a great problem. But nowadays we see big companies buying up lots of tickets and then selling them on at inflated prices, often meaning that the real fans can no longer afford to go.

I believe there does need to be a system in place to be able to sell tickets on, but I’m not sure we have the right system at the moment. This is why I am setting up an inquiry as Chair of the All-Party Music Group, along with a number of other groups, so we can present some recommendations on this to the Government. We will hold a series of evidence sessions and I will keep you updated on the conclusions we reach on this issue.

e-newsletter

I will be starting an e-newsletter, so if you would like to be updated by email, please send your email address to jrmpoffice@btinternet.com along with your name and postal address and we will add you to the list.

WE NEED A BANKING SYTEM THAT HELPS SMALL BUSINESSES INSTEAD OF HINDERING THEM

People in Glasgow North West are facing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.

Prices are soaring, wages are falling, working people are £1,600 per year worse off and small businesses are struggling to access the finance they need to grow. Yet David Cameron continues to demonstrate how out of touch he is with the struggles millions are facing and is determined to operate our economy as business as usual.

I’m delighted that Labour has made firm plans to help people struggling with the rising cost of living, such as our pledge to freeze energy bills until 2017. But as important as this pledge is, it only helps to deal with the consequences of our current economic state, and not the symptoms.

The Tory-led Government has failed to make the long-term changes needed to build a new economy that works for everyone and not just a few at the top.

The Tories won’t build a new economy that can tackle the cost of living crisis. They are determined to cling on to the old economy in a global race to the bottom. They think low wages, low skills and insecure work is the way to take Britain forward in the hope that some of the wealth will trickle down from the top.

If we’re serious about dealing with the cost of living crisis and winning the race to the top with countries like China and India, then we need to build a new economy that works for everyone, and that means dealing with one of Britain’s broken markets: our banking system that works for banks but not for businesses and families.

Britain’s banking system is dominated by just four banks that control 85 per cent of small business lending. This lack of competition is a root cause of poor service, a breakdown of trust and a massive drop of £56bn in lending to business since May 2010.

Part of the reason we rely too much on low paid, insecure work is that the small firms that could create the good, high paying jobs of the future can’t get the finance they need to grow both themselves and our economy.

We need to support small and medium sized enterprises so they can grow our economy for the future and that means promoting a wider range of banks that have to compete harder with each other for customers.

That’s why the next Labour Government will bring in a legal threshold to ensure no bank can get too big and that the market remains competitive for the long-term. We will improve the amount of lending to small businesses, improve the service to all customers and create new banks that will work for the communities they serve.

Under a Labour Government, small businesses will have a better chance of getting the support they need to grow, employ more people at decent wages and help Britain earn its way to better living standards for everyone.

Post Office Services Debate

On Thursday, I led a debate in the Commons Chamber on post offices and the services they offer. Here is the text of the debate:

Post Office Services

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Karen Bradley.)

4.51 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): I thank the speakers in the previous debate for giving me some extra time for this important debate. We have had many debates on post office services, and there will continue to be more unless we manage to solve the problems of the Post Office.

Post offices play a significant role in all our communities—80% of people in Scotland say that post offices play an important role in the local community. They act as a vital service and should be seen as community hubs. Sadly, rather than nurturing those community beacons, the Government have done a lot to undermine the network and decrease the services that it provides.

There are about 11,800 post offices in the UK and customers rely heavily on them, especially the most vulnerable in our society—the elderly, those on low incomes and the disabled. The universal service obligation and other services are so ingrained in our society that I fear the loss of them. For example, 43% of elderly people use a post office to access cash. People take it for granted that they can walk into a post office and deliver items within the UK and across the world. We need to act now to keep the Post Office thriving, otherwise we might be at risk of losing that vital institution.

The announcement by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) in November that additional funding had been allocated to complete the network transformation programme was a vote of no confidence. If the Government had delivered on the front office for Government work that had been promised, which I shall speak more about later, that £640 million would not be needed.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the transformation programme is working against many small post offices? In particular, the Post Office appears to be targeting some offices and persuading the postmaster to retire so that it can move into a local shop and downgrade the service.

John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is right, and I shall come on to some of those points as we move on. There is no doubt that larger post offices—and even sub-post offices, for that matter—are shutting. When I spoke at a conference for sub-postmasters from Glasgow and Ayrshire, they let me know exactly how they felt about the Government’s position, and, for that matter, that of the previous Government. At least they were there to help and they offered some examples that I will mention later.

Although the Government will have spent around £2 billion on network transformation, we still will not have an attractive model for current or future operators. The money will have been used to subsidise exit from the network, as the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) said, rather than to make the network sustainable in the long term. That is of great concern to the many people who rely on post offices. We should be looking at making the Post Office better, rather than, as I suspect, making it ready for privatisation.

The sale of Royal Mail was of course resisted by the Opposition. Last week’s news that its share price was £5.67—£2.37 above the Government’s offer price, which raised just £3.3 billion—was disappointing. It was an ideological move, not a financially sensible or thought-through one. The separation of the Post Office and Royal Mail has added millions of pounds in costs to the Post Office due to loss of synergies. No other postal administration in a developed economy has separate letters and retail businesses.

The sale has now been done, but we must still consider Royal Mail in our strategy for the future of the Post Office. Just under 40% of Post Office revenues come from mail, so it is a significant part of the business. I was glad that, in January 2012, the Government caved into pressure and signed the 10-year inter-business agreement between Royal Mail and the Post Office, but there is no guarantee beyond 2022. The position is also not secure for the next 10 years, as the Minister’s own Department has said that the contract allows for changes in commercial circumstances and contains provision for a review of the agreement terms after five years. The 10-year agreement would therefore appear to be for only five years, but hopefully the next Government will be of a different colour and will put right some of these short-term ideological decisions.

It is a real concern that Royal Mail might not continue to support the post office network. The loss of that contract would seriously undermine the Post Office’s integrity as a mail delivery service. Were that to happen, people would lose confidence in the institution and the future of many post offices would be at risk, especially the largely loss-making ones in rural areas, such as the one represented by the hon. Member for Angus. Privatisation is a risk to Post Office services and we need more guarantees for the decades to come.

A post office is a place where people can go to fill in Government forms or to pay for Government services. It is important for both customers and employees that the Government continue to give the Post Office sufficient work. This Government announced in 2010 that post offices would become the “Front Office for Government”, but actions speak louder than words. They promised to give post offices £466 million of Government work, but post offices are currently gaining only £130 million from Government business.

I am sure that the Minister will say that the Post Office has won all the Government contracts it has bid for, but those were contracts it already had, not new ones. No new major services have been awarded to post offices, and the National Federation of SubPostmasters has stated that the few that have been introduced are for one-off transactions that are available in only a small number of post offices. Dangerous precedents have been set by not awarding Government contracts, and the future of the Post Office is in jeopardy as a result.

Linked to that, we need to ensure that post offices are not disadvantaged compared with other methods of using Government services. For example, if I wanted to pay my road tax online, I could bring up all the details—whether my car had its MOT and insurance, for example—via an online portal. I would not need to go looking for documents, as the information would already be on the system. However, until very recently, post offices could check only a car’s MOT, so people would have to bring in their insurance documents. It is clear that those who could choose to use the internet over having that inconvenience would do so. After all, who wants to have to carry around their documentation to ensure that they get their road tax? Thankfully, in this case, somebody has seen sense, so post offices can now check insurance as well, but the internet was well ahead on that, and that should be lesson for future online services. Post offices do not need to have an advantage—in fact, sub-postmasters tell me that they do not want it—but they should have at least a level playing field. People should be able to use the post office to access Government services with the same ease as on the internet. The decision not to award the green giro contract to the Post Office was another example of how the future of the institution—

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we have reached the moment for a procedural motion, after which I shall ask him to resume his speech.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Karen Bradley.)

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am sorry to have interrupted you mid-flow, Mr Robertson.

John Robertson: That is quite all right, Madam Deputy Speaker; you are in charge, after all.

The decision not to award the green giro contract to the Post Office was another key example of how the importance and value to people of the institution’s future was not even considered. The move was widely condemned by charities, which highlighted the fact that it would affect the elderly and vulnerable the hardest. Andy Burrows of Consumer Focus said:

“research suggests that people, particularly those on a low income, value the security and privacy that post offices provide.”

There is a real necessity for post offices that cannot be measured by numbers. When we think about the use of post offices, such matters should be considered, but it seems that in this case they were not.

Such a thing is also relevant when we talk about the Post Office’s announcement last year that it is to franchise several Crown post offices. There is a lot of concern, particularly among the vulnerable people I have mentioned, that certain services will no longer be easily available to local people, leading to an inferior service for our constituents and the loss of one-to-one help from specially trained and committed post office staff. We must also bear in mind the livelihoods of hard-working staff in Crown post offices. Post Office Ltd appears to have handled this very badly through a lack of consultation with staff, unions and key stakeholders, which resulted in a strike. About 800 jobs are at risk due to franchising, but that does not seem to have been considered during the decision-making process. Have the Government learned from this and how will the Minister proceed with franchising? Can she explain why the Crown branch section of the network should receive no public funding at all and yet hit break-even by April 2015 when other sections of the network will continue to receive public funding after this date? Many Crown branches are in the poorest and most disadvantaged parts of the country. A more realistic timetable would balance the need to protect services and jobs with financial sustainability.

We should be thinking about how we could increase the number of Government services available in post offices. Many people prefer to carry out transactions with the UK Government, devolved Administrations and local authorities online. Crucially, however, those who do not have the internet are the most vulnerable. Some 53% of people who have never used the internet have a disability. Around 37,000 people on low incomes in Scotland have never used the internet, while only 33% of adults over 65 have the internet in their home. These people need another option, and post offices are a clear choice: 43% of over-65s use a post office at least once a week, as well as 37% of people with disabilities and 31% of those in the D and E socio-economic groups.

It is also much more difficult for such people to move on to other ways of accessing services. The post office could act as a one-stop shop for people to sort out all these services in one go. Post offices are the natural home for local government services, and that approach could save money, improve public services and increase post offices’ footfall, although it would require co-ordinated work between local authorities and devolved Administrations. If the Government are so committed to making the Post Office the front line of Government, what is the Minister going to do to encourage councils and devolved Administrations to transfer their contracts over?

We should also look at widening the range of services provided by post offices. We were hugely disappointed that our plans for a people’s bank were abandoned in 2010. Post offices provide local access to cash and banking services, and that is particularly important in rural areas and areas such as those in my constituency with high levels of elderly people. The potential of such services is not being realised. Post offices should have full access to all high street bank accounts, but some banks have not been forthcoming.

In the long term, the possibility of a state-backed bank at the post office should be explored. There is evidence that that could be of great benefit to the Post Office, as New Zealand Post has seen its profits surge by nearly 70% thanks to its financial services arm, Kiwibank. Such a bank could also be massively beneficial in combating payday loan companies and high-cost doorstep lending by being linked to credit unions and providing affordable credit directly to the communities that our post offices serve.

The post offices of our communities need to be saved. They provide vital services, the reduction of which is of great concern to workers and the vulnerable people who rely on their post office. Action on the idea of a front office for Government is lacking when we need it most, and there has been no initiative from this Government to widen the impact of post offices. We need action, and we need it fast if we want to save this national institution, rather than let it be sold off for a quick buck like Royal Mail.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): In calling Minister Jenny Willott to reply, may I put on record my congratulations to her, because I believe that this is the first time that she has spoken from the Dispatch Box? I welcome her.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jenny Willott): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having not been allowed to speak in this Chamber for two years as a Government Whip, it is a little surreal to be at the Dispatch Box.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) on securing this debate on an important subject. Despite the lack of Members present, the issue comes up regularly, and on most occasions a significant number of Members want to discuss the critical role that post offices play in all our local communities. The post office is much more than just a commercial entity. As the hon. Gentleman has said, it is important to hundreds of thousands of small businesses, which rely on it every day, as well as to the millions of customers who use the network for a range of services. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that post offices are particularly crucial to elderly residents, those on low incomes and the disabled, who make particularly good use of them in our communities.

In November 2010, we announced a funding package of the historic amount of £1.34 billion to guarantee the size of the network until 2015 and to end the closure programmes run by the hon. Gentleman’s Government, which led to the closure of 7,000 branches under the previous Administration. In November 2013, we announced our continued support of the network with a further £640 million to secure and continue its modernisation until 2018. That makes clear the Government’s commitment to the post office and its future success. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, that recent investment is a vote of confidence in the post office network and it is helping to move it to a more sustainable and secure long-term future.

Mr Weir: I understand what the Minister is saying and I think we all appreciate the money going into the transformation programme, but many small sub-postmasters in my constituency are concerned because they feel that they are being pressurised by the Post Office to give up their businesses, take extra redundancy or move to a local model that they feel is unsustainable. That does not seem to be a sensible way to pressurise people who have run post offices successfully for many years.

Jenny Willott: I cannot comment on the operational procedures of the Post Office, which is a separate entity, but the Government are very clear that we want to maintain 11,500 branches in the post office network across the country. That means ensuring that we maintain a branch in all communities that currently have branches, and the level of knowledge and expertise that exists among many sub-postmasters, who are extremely well embedded in their communities and extremely well known and trusted by members of their local community. That is one of the elements that make the post office so important in many of our communities, especially in rural or more deprived areas, where many people depend heavily on the local sub-postmaster and the post office branch.

Mr Weir: I do not want to labour the point, but experienced postmasters are being encouraged to give up and businesses are going to a local shop, on the post office local model, that generally offers fewer services than existing post offices. I appreciate that the Minister has said that the Post Office is independent, but Government money—taxpayers’ money—is being used to achieve the changes.

Jenny Willott: We are trying to ensure that the post office network is sustainable into the future. We cannot subsidise at historical levels. The previous Government’s way to tackle the problem was just to close post office branches, with significant losses. There were many losses in my constituency, as I am sure there were in those of other hon. Members in the Chamber.

This Government have taken a different decision, which is to look at different models to ensure that we can maintain post office services in all communities across the country. Services delivered in particular communities may have to change to ensure that they are viable, but it is incredibly important that we have post office outreach in communities across the country, and that we do not see any repetition of the previous Labour Government’s closure programme.

John Robertson: The point that the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) and I are trying to make to the Government is that post offices supply a service to people who need that service. We do not need a downgrading of the existing service, but it appears likely that the Government’s project will downgrade post offices to such an extent that people will wonder what the point is of having them in the first place.

Jenny Willott: I could not disagree more with the hon. Gentleman. The vast majority of services available in post office branches across our communities will still be available. I cannot remember the exact figures—I hope that he will forgive me—but well over 90%, perhaps even 95%, of the services that people can currently access in their branches will still be available under the new models. There will still be every reason for people to carry on using their post offices, which will serve their communities in exactly the same way: the model will be slightly different, but they will provide just as vital a service to members of our communities as they currently do.

The £2 billion of funding that has now been approved by the Government will allow post offices to invest in transforming and modernising the network and helping to ensure the long-term sustainability that we all agree is absolutely critical. Despite what the hon. Gentleman said in his speech, the new models are attractive. I understand that he and the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) both have concerns, but the models are attractive to those running post office branches. Some 2,500 sub-postmasters have already converted, or have signed contracts to convert, their branches to one of the new operating models. They have received investment to modernise and improve their branches, which will bring benefits not just to them in running their businesses, but to the consumers they serve and the communities in which they are based, including much longer operating hours, shorter queues and more attractive branch layouts.

John Robertson: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but perhaps we can solve the whole problem. Why does she not come up to Glasgow and meet the same sub-postmasters that I have spoken to? Let me assure her that what she says is not what they are telling me. She can come and see for herself.

Jenny Willott: I have met the National Federation of SubPostmasters. I represent Cardiff Central, and I have spoken to my local sub-postmasters. I appreciate that this is clearly a period of change that will be very unnerving for many sub-postmasters, particularly for those who have to change how they operate their business, but a significant amount of investment is available for those who want to carry on and to sign contracts to change to a new form of business. They are getting a lot of support from the Government. Others might want to leave the network or to retire, including those who have run businesses for a long time, and there is support for them as well, but it is important to recognise that many sub-postmasters are happy to alter their properties and to change to the new model.

Customers are getting significant benefits from the new models. Across the network, there are an additional 34,000 opening hours a week, which is equivalent to 700 more traditional post offices. The programme of investment will see the modernisation and protection of all branches by 2018, ensuring that every community and customer that relies on access to a post office today will continue to have access to post office services in the future.

The Government have ensured that all sub-postmasters can benefit from the investment. For the first time, a dedicated fund has been set up for post office branches that are important to the communities they serve, but where one of the new models would not be viable. That is an issue in large, remote rural areas, such as those in Scotland, where the post office is often the last shop in the village, as it were. The community fund to ensure that those post offices are kept open is a real departure. It will protect those branches well into the future and ensure that people have access to post office services. That is particularly important in areas where the post office provides an important service to more vulnerable consumers.

Mr Weir: I thank the Minister for giving way yet again; I do not want to push my luck too far. I remember taking this matter up with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) when she announced the fund. The fund is for doing work on the post office to make it better, but that is not the difficulty in many of these very small post offices. The difficulty is that the postmaster’s income is simply insufficient. Postmasters want to keep going, but there is nothing in the fund to give them an uplift in their income to help the post office survive. The fund is for physical changes to the post office, which is not the issue at most of the post offices we are discussing.

Jenny Willott: I will come on to talk about income and the services that we are supporting in post offices to ensure that they are viable.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North West spoke about Crown post offices. As he mentioned, the funding package that was set out in 2010 required the Post Office to eliminate its substantial losses. In 2012-13, £37 million of losses were incurred by the 373 branches that made up the Crown segment of the network. It is a key part of the Post Office’s strategy to make the network sustainable in the long term. The Government support the business in delivering that strategy. The current losses of the Crown network contribute a third of the losses incurred by the network as a whole. That is clearly unsustainable. No business, including the Post Office, can maintain a situation in which its high street branches cost substantially more to run than they bring in.

As part of its strategy to eliminate the unsustainable losses, the Post Office identified about 70 branches where there is no prospect of eliminating the losses at a local level under the current structure. In those locations, it is seeking a suitable retail partner to take on the operation of the branch under a franchise arrangement. The Post Office has made it clear that under each franchise proposal, the full range of current post office services, including the more complex transactions such as passport applications and identity services, will continue to be available in close proximity to the existing Crown branch. In the event that a suitable retail partner cannot be found, Post Office Ltd has given a commitment that a post office service will be retained in the area. I hope that what I have said reassures the hon. Gentleman that communities will not lose these vital local services.

John Robertson: The hon. Lady has not reassured me at all, I am afraid. Some of the Crown post offices that are closing are in areas where people simply cannot get about. There is no transport to get to where the new post office is because the bus services have been cut. How are those people supposed to get to the facilities that they need? They cannot go online because they do not have a computer and they cannot afford one.

Jenny Willott: The Post Office operates to the strict criteria that 90% of the population must live within a mile of a post office and 95% within three miles. Although there may be some changes to the exact buildings in which branches are provided, as I said, services including the more complex ones available at Crown branches will still be available in the area. We are maintaining the access criteria so that more than nine out of 10 people will live within a mile of a post office. We recognise that more vulnerable members of the community in particular will find it hard to travel longer distances to access services, so we are ensuring that they are maintained locally.

The investment that is being made is helping to ensure that an independent Post Office will remain a strong and long-term partner for Royal Mail—that is another issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. A transformed network will offer Royal Mail and the many companies, Government Departments and agencies with which the Post Office works better access to customers than ever before, which is crucial to winning new contracts and retaining existing ones.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the decision to separate the Post Office from Royal Mail. Far from being a mistake, it has allowed the Post Office to focus on its own priorities and needs. It is important to recognise that the two companies are very different. Royal Mail is a logistics company whose business is collecting, sorting and delivering mail. Although we can access Royal Mail services at post offices, the Post Office is different. In addition to mail services, it provides access to a wide range of Government services, from pension and benefit payments to passport check and send services and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency motoring services, all the way down to fishing rod licences. It also provides access to a wide range of financial services products, from savings accounts to mortgages, insurance and foreign exchange. It is now piloting a range of current accounts. Separation is allowing the Post Office to focus on its business and make the right decisions in the long-term interests of its staff, sub-postmasters and customers.

I recognise, as I think we all do, the importance of the Post Office’s relationship with Royal Mail. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, prior to separation the two companies negotiated and signed a long-term commercial agreement. It was a 10-year agreement, the longest permissible at the time, and ensured that Royal Mail services would continue to be offered at post offices until 2020. That cemented the long-term relationship between the two businesses. As the post office network modernises and the parcels market continues to grow, the relationship will only get stronger. Indeed, Royal Mail’s chief executive has said that it is “unthinkable” that the two companies will not always have a close relationship. I am reassured that the relationship will be maintained long into the future.

It is important to remember that the relationship is equally important for both businesses. The Post Office benefits from a continuing commercial relationship with the largest postal operator in the UK, and Royal Mail benefits from exclusive access to the largest retail network in the UK and the millions of customers who use post offices every week.

Alongside its work for the Royal Mail, the Post Office is making good progress on its ambition to become a front office for government. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out—slightly dismissively, if I may say so—the Post Office has won every Government contract that it has bid for in the past two and a half years. That is a notable achievement that should not be underestimated. The contracts have been secured in highly competitive markets against fierce competition, and the Post Office’s success represents a vote of confidence in the business, in the Government’s funding and, more importantly, in the thousands of highly skilled postmasters and post office staff who deliver the services every day. That shows the regard in which they are held.

The contracts that have been won include the vital cross-government front office framework contract, which was led by the DVLA and won by the Post Office in 2012. It has extended the Post Office’s contract with the DVLA and broadened it into new areas. Because it is a framework contract, it also means that other Government agencies can contract more easily with the Post Office and deliver value for money to the taxpayer. The contract is already in use by Her Majesty’s Passport Office, which sees in it an opportunity to modernise the passport check and send service. With a stable and modernising network, the Post Office is well placed to build on those successes.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and all other Members who are in the Chamber will support me in encouraging Government Departments and agencies, local government bodies and, as he said, the devolved Administrations to seek out new opportunities to work with the Post Office. That includes new and emerging digital and identity markets, but also counter services. As he has said, branch security is important to so many Post Office and Government customers.

The Post Office has shown time and again the benefits it can bring to the Government in driving value for money for the taxpayer and in improving the accessibility of Government services, including to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups across the UK. That has brought many benefits to the Post Office. Additional new work will be crucial in helping to ensure the network’s long-term future.

However, I want to be clear that, in accordance with EU procurement regulations, the Government cannot simply award contracts to the Post Office or, for that matter, to any other company. We must secure suppliers through an open and competitive tender process. That ensures fairness, drives innovation and delivers value for money for taxpayers, which is important in these times. That the Post Office is winning contracts in such circumstances shows that it meets those competitive criteria and does an excellent job.

There is more to the Post Office than mail and Government services—the hon. Gentleman highlighted that. The company has been growing well in new areas in recent years and is now one of the leading providers of financial and telephony services in the UK. Growth in the Post Office’s award-winning financial services business under this Government has made it one of the leading challengers to the high street banks. Post Office’s 3 million customers have deposited more than £17 billion in a variety of savings products. Customers rely on the Post Office for insuring their homes and holidays. It also helps them to get on or move up the property ladder with the range of mortgages it has available. Recently, the Post Office’s current account pilot was extended and is now available in more than 100 branches.

The Post Office acknowledges the important role its network plays in local communities. The business is already in conversation with the Association of British Credit Unions and the credit union sector to explore how they can work together to reach more families and give access to credit union services in more communities. I am sure hon. Members welcome that.

The Post Office remains committed to ensuring that communities continue to be able to access cash and banking services—the hon. Gentleman highlighted that important issue. Ninety-five per cent. of UK current accounts are available over the post office counter. With the support of the Government, the Post Office is continuing to work with the one remaining high street bank—Santander—that does not offer this service. Those services are important in ensuring local convenient access to cash, particularly, as he said, for the communities that have been left with no high street branch. Unfortunately, that is many of our communities in the UK.

In conclusion, I am confident that the hon. Gentleman can see that the Government believe strongly in the future of the Post Office and that we are working hard to ensure its future success. We are investing in modernising the network. Under this Government, the Post Office is flourishing. Customers are benefiting from longer opening hours at improved branches. The company is winning new contracts and providing its customers with an increased range of services. The Government are laying the foundations for the long-term, sustainable and successful future of the Post Office. Hon. Members agree that it is essential for our communities that the Post Office continues to thrive in the years to come.