Closures inevitable says Post watchdog

CLOSURE of little-used rural Post Offices should not be opposed, so long as villagers do not lose access to postal services, a watchdog believes. Postwatch East of England, which oversees postal services in Cambridgeshire, accepts that closures are inevit

CLOSURE of little-used rural Post Offices should not be opposed, so long as villagers do not lose access to postal services, a watchdog believes.

Postwatch East of England, which oversees postal services in Cambridgeshire, accepts that closures are inevitable to stem spiralling losses.

The watchdog said it would be irresponsible to let the current succession of unplanned closures - often when a sub-postmaster retires or an associated retail business folds - continue.

With the Government consulting on better ways to meet the need for postal services, Dr Charles Winstanley, Postwatch chairman, said: "This is not a simple numbers game of how many post office buildings are to close. The focus should be on ensuring customers have access to post office services.


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"Solutions will vary from location to location. But, for example, if a number of expensive-to-run, seldom-used post offices can be replaced with a cost-effective mobile service that meets communities' needs - doesn't that make sense?

"We will need time to study the proposals to consider how they will work in practice. We are pleased to see the Government recognises the social and economic role of the post office network, but are disappointed that there is no further information on how the social role will be taken into account when considering a post office's future."

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He said the watchdog was surprised that it seemed that more urban closures, potentially including those in deprived wards, were being envisaged so soon after the Network Reinvention Programme - which sounded the death knell for the office in Mayfield Road, Hartford, among others - had finished.

But Dr Winstanley warned: "The finally agreed principles must be robust and not open to perverse interpretation by Post Office Limited.

"Postwatch was heavily involved in the urban closure programme and learned many lessons. Too often during that programme Post Office Limited pushed forward plans against the sensible objections of customers, MPs, Postwatch and others.

"Postwatch will campaign vigorously for the meaningful local consultation this issue needs and customers deserve."

Nationally, in March 2006 there were 14,376 post offices of which 6,522 were urban and 7,854 rural. There were 1,125 post offices in areas classified as urban deprived. These post offices made an operating loss in 2005/06 of £111million. Losses for 2006/07 are expected to be over £200million.

INFORMATION: More than 1,500 rural post offices have fewer than 40 customer visits a week, and 90 per cent fail to make a profit. Since April 2000, despite a Government policy to avoid rural post office closures, more than 1,000 have closed. All these closures were 'unplanned'.

During the Network Reinvention Programme, between April 2003, and March 2005, more than 2,400 urban post offices were closed.

About 28 million customers make 44 million visits to post offices every week, nine million of them to rural post offices.

* Is the post office network outdated and unworkable in the age of the internet and supermarket dominance, or does it form a vital part of the community. Send you views and letters to editor@huntspost.co.uk or to 30 High Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TB.

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