Give us your poor, your huddled masses…
And we'll get them set up with the Post Office
Trade secretary Stephen Byers today told of a new Post Office Bill that will change the grubby little boxes into beacons of the Internet age.
He listed the three main aims of the bill as:
Establishing a universal bank Quoting a figure of 3.5 million people without a bank account in the UK, post offices will act as a bank, offering cash withdrawal, direct debits etc., etc.
Provide Internet access and opportunities for e-commerce Internet terminals are to be put in all post offices and staff to be trained to help people use them. The bill will also free the Post Office from various legal restraints so branches will be able to pursue ecommerce ideas. One suggested by Byers himself was as a package holding station for goods bought over the Internet.
- Post Office to be more greatly involved in government services Also using the Internet, the government hopes that post offices will become a one-stop shop for information and advice on its services, extending the traditional car tax and licence transactions.
Byers also spelt out a commitment to rural post offices, over 500 of which have closed in the last year alone. The Post Office will be made responsible for maintaining the rural network and preventing any avoidable closures. Sadly, "unavoidable" closures were defined as those offices where no one wanted to take them over or where they were not commercially viable.
None of these aims would be possible the secretary claimed, if it hadn't been for the government's £ 500 million investment in online modern systems for the Post Office.
So there you have it. It won't be Bill Gates, Richard Branson or even Tony Blair that will lead the common people into the digital future. No, it will be Doris and Gladys. These master-tearers of stamps, mental-arithmetic champions, community heros, it will be them that will walk slowly round the edge of the counter and stumble - carefully but with great determination - up the hill of providence, with all of us behind.
How very British. ®