I HAVE worked particularly closely with Ashburton Post Office in recent years, and it was a pleasure to be invited back to visit last week.

Sub-postmasters Stuart and Jackie Rogers have established an innovative “hub-and-spoke” model for Post Office services, and my visit was a useful opportunity to get an update on the rollout of this scheme. 

Under the “hub-and-spoke” model, the Post Office acts as the hub – with a meeting room, library, computer facilities and weekly bank visits – and an adapted Post Office van provides outreach “spoke” services to outlying areas.

Ashburton has long been unique in the services it provides to the local community and is the only Post Office in the UK which gives 2p for each cash withdrawal back to good causes in the community, donating more than £10,000 since 2015.

I look forward to working with Stuart and Jackie to encourage wider use of the “hub-and-spoke” approach. 

It was also useful to get some feedback on the Government’s recent announcements regarding the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. 

The Horizon scandal has been described as the one of UK’s most widespread miscarriages of justice, and the Government is working hard to correct this. 

In January, the Prime Minister announced legislation to overturn convictions to ensure affected Sub-postmasters are swiftly exonerated and compensated.

When passed, the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill will automatically quash convictions for specified offences of dishonesty prosecuted by the Post Office or the Crown Prosecution Service.

While the Bill itself does not provide compensation to impacted postmasters, the Government has also announced plans to set up a new “Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme”, which will make payments to those who have had their convictions quashed by the Bill. 

This new scheme will fill the gaps left by the Post Office compensation scheme, recognising the unique position of postmasters who were ineligible for the Historic Shortfall Scheme. 

Post Offices are a vital asset to many communities, particularly in Central Devon, which has the fourth highest number of any constituency in England.

Rural communities rely heavily on Post Offices, which is why I have worked tirelessly to support them throughout my time as an MP, and even before being elected in 2010. 

As Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, I spoke out in the House of Commons against Barclays Bank’s refusal to let its customers withdraw money at local Post Office branches. The next day, Barclays reversed its decision, meaning that customers were able to withdraw cash at their local Post Office, rather than having to travel much further afield to their nearest Barclays branch.

I have since challenged high street banks to better inform their customers of the banking services available at local Post Offices, encouraging use of these vital community assets.

I was also vocally opposed to Royal Mail’s decision to remove local sorting offices from six Post Office branches in Central Devon, and engaged with sub-postmasters throughout the process to ensure that a suitable compensation package was in place. 

More from Mel at: www.melstridemp.com .