The Government approved and published a Payment Strategy for the modernisation of welfare payments in December last year. The Strategy sets out a roadmap payment developments over the coming years. It followed a root and branch examination of the Department's payment processes and approaches, reflecting changing consumer preferences and the need to deliver greater economies and efficiencies to the Department and the economy at large. The Strategy aims to remove the limits that cash payments impose on our clients in terms of making onward financial transactions and availing of discounted prices online while also continuing to serve those who are more vulnerable in our society.
The Strategy is aligned to the objectives of the National Payments Plan, which highlighted the criticality of moving to electronic payments in reducing the very high levels of cash usage in the Irish economy with its consequential impacts on costs and competitiveness.
I am very conscious of the important role of the post office around the country, not only in respect of social welfare payments but also the extent to which it is now a one stop shop where people can pay bills and undertake a number of other financial and banking transactions and services. The Government has stated its commitment to maintaining the post office network in the Programme for Government and Minister Rabbitte has made a number of statements recently in the Dáil referring to this. At a recent presentation to a Dáil committee, An Post spoke of its plans to grow their existing levels of services in the light of emerging market pressures which extend beyond the delivery of welfare payments.
For my part, I was happy to support the post office services with the signing of a new contract last December following an EU-wide procurement competition. The contract will be worth in excess of €50 million to An Post this year. The Department will continue to accommodate its clients in exercising their choice of electronic payments where this is possible in the interests of economy, efficiency and national competitiveness.