Hudghton (Greens/EFA) - Mr President, postal services and post offices seem to be very topical in Parliament at the moment and rightly so, given their importance. Only last week, in the UK parliament at Westminster the newly-elected MP from our European Free Alliance partners, Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, made his maiden speech on that subject. The Scottish parliament too recently had a debate with particular reference to the role which post offices, especially in rural areas, play in service provision and the sustainability of rural communities. Liberalisation is not the only potential threat to post office services. Post office outlets in Scotland, as we have heard, handle much more than just mail delivery. Traditionally they have been used by governments and some local authorities as an agency for the payment of state pensions and other benefits as well as a local collection centre for house rents, local taxes and so on. But as the modernisation of public financial systems leads to more and more electronic cash movements straight to and from bank accounts, so the viability of rural post offices is being threatened. If a rural post office closes, usually with the only local shop attached, then a major threat to community sustainability and to social inclusion can result. Instead of allowing post office outlets to be undermined by liberalisation or by the modernisation of systems, governments, and the Commission too, should be encouraging and supporting the extensive network of post office outlets and viewing these as an asset which can be built upon, providing public information and services from a location which is convenient for residents.

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