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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2007, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Swinney vows post office 'fight'
Post Office - generic
MSPs heard the SNP government response to the decision
Finance Secretary John Swinney has promised to fight to safeguard the post office network in Scotland.

He is seeking early talks with Royal Mail managers after the UK Government decided to support the closure of 2,500 offices - about 200 in Scotland.

Conservative MSP Gavin Brown said Mr Swinney lacked "fight and fire in his belly" to stand up for local services.

But he replied: "I can assure him there is no lack of fight in me in terms of the post office issue."

He said his statement to the Scottish Parliament contained "a number of constructive suggestions" about ways to try and safeguard the post office network.

We are already encouraging all our public services to collaborate and co-locate to ensure efficiency and, as far as we can, protect local access
John Swinney
Finance Secretary

Mr Swinney urged MSPs from all sides to get involved in local consultations over closures and promised that the new Scottish Executive would work hard to get the best deal for Scotland.

"To that end, I shall want to ensure that we engage closely with Post Office management to have a clear understanding of the rules of engagement," he said in his statement.

Mr Swinney said the executive's powers to carry out "independent action" were limited, but stressed that local consultation would be "absolutely critical".

He suggested that some post offices could be saved by sharing space with other essential services.

"We are already encouraging all our public services to collaborate and co-locate to ensure efficiency and, as far as we can, protect local access," he said.

"The post office service should do the same, and we are willing to explore ways in which our local agencies can work with them to retain the lifeline services for communities which the post office provides."

Financial help

Labour's finance spokeswoman Wendy Alexander criticised Mr Swinney for failing to give a firm commitment to link post offices to other public services.

She added that the Scottish government had powers allowing it to provide financial help to support the provision of other services in post offices.

"That was a power that led the previous government to provide over 2m in the period 2003 to 2005 dedicated to supporting post offices in deprived areas," she added.

There is an opportunity for the new government to ensure the post office network in the Borders and elsewhere in rural Scotland... is not only saved, but developed
Christine Grahame
SNP MSP

"So why does this statement not even acknowledge this power in the Scotland Act - far less commit his government, as the coalition did, to using it in the national interest?"

Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott said Mr Swinney's statement could, with one or two words deleted, have been made by practically any party at Holyrood.

He blamed the problems in the postal network on the current Labour government.

Critics of the decision have claimed the closures, which will take place by 2009, will devastate local communities, especially in rural areas.

However, the UK Government claimed post offices were losing 4m a week.

Borders branches

It added that the network had been affected by new technology and changing lifestyles.

It insisted that the remaining post office network would still be larger than all the UK's banks and building societies put together.

South of Scotland SNP MSP Christine Grahame has written to Mr Swinney to highlight the plight of branches in the Borders.

"There is an opportunity for the new government to ensure the post office network in the Borders and elsewhere in rural Scotland, which is at the heart of the community, is not only saved, but developed," she said.


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