Headlines: May 10th, 2001

The Government says it has now reached agreement with the main UK banks on introducing Universal Banking Services at post offices.It describes it as a major boost to the post office network, which may be especially welcome in rural areas where such facilities make up essential local services.

The idea is that millions of people currently without any banking facilities will get access to a new post-office based card account or one of the banks’ basic bank accounts through the 18,000 strong post office network.

The move will open the way for large numbers of payments currently made over the counter in cash to be made direct into bank accounts.

Barclays, Lloyds TSB, RBS/NatWest, HSBC, Abbey National, the Halifax. Alliance and Leicester, the BOS, NAG, the Co-op, and the Nationwide Building Society will make their basic bank accounts accessible through the post office and contribute 180 million pounds to the costs of running the post office card account.

Though the Government describes the move as a major step in tackling financial exclusion, some sub-postmasters are not so sure. They say their network already has partnership agreements with several banks, which currently bring in more in handling fees than is likely under the new system.