by rich airey
MPs have narrowly voted against suspending the Post Office's branch closure programme. At least 20 Labour MPs rebelled against the government, but the Tory motion to call a halt to the programme was defeated by a majority of just 20.
About 90 Labour MPs are thought to have campaigned to save their local offices, prompting claims from opposition MPs of "rank hypocrisy".
The closure programme is expected to be a pivotal issue in next month's local elections.
Shadow business secretary Alan Duncan said it was "astonishing" that the majority was just 20. He added: "The debate has exposed the deceit of the MPs who pretend to support their constituents, but then say something completely different back in Westminster."
The National Federation of Subpostmasters welcomed the Commons result. General secretary George Thomson warned that a suspension of the closure programme would result in more uncertainty for subpostmasters who are now ready to accept the compensation deal on offer. He added that it would threaten the stability of offices remaining in the network who are set to benefit from savings made by Post Office Ltd, and migration of customers from other branches.
Meanwhile, a number of local authorities are continuing to investigate whether the Post Office will allow them to take over and subsidise threatened post office branches to ensure their survival.
Up to 50 councils have expressed an interest in the plans, which were initiated by Essex County Council. The plans have already hit rocky ground in Sussex, however, where Lewes District Council said it had been denied access to vital financial information it says it needs to investigate the possibility of saving two branches in its region.