A cross-party group of MPs has called on the Government to secure the future of rural post offices. Responding to the Department of Trade and Industry’s consultation on the Post Office Network, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services, has written to the DTI calling on Government to be more joined-up in its approach to the Post Office, looking to expand services provided and increase the number of customers served in rural post offices to secure their future.
The Government is set to report back on the consultation process at the end of March, and is expected to announce its plans for closing economically unviable post offices, many of which are situated in rural areas.
The group’s response outlined positive steps which the Government could take or encourage:
• removing barriers to expanding revenue sources;
• empowering post offices to offer local authority services;
• requiring each Department and Agency to consider whether any of its services to the public could be provided through the extensive sub-post office network;
• improving access to cash by encouraging the Post Office to locate ATMs in rural branches;
• helping the Post Office become more economically viable by empowering it to reach commercial agreements for bill payment contracts, even working with competitors in rural areas;
• requiring the successful bidder for the next UK National Lottery Licence from 2009, as a public service obligation within its license, to offer remaining sub post offices in rural areas which are in receipt of Government support, the opportunity to install a National Lottery terminal.
“The effect that closures will have on rural areas in North West Hampshire cannot be underestimated. Post offices are the lifeblood of local communities, often being the last publicly accessible commercial hub in a community or village. The Government should be making every effort to ensure and enhance the economic viability of post offices which may otherwise face closure.
“As well as extending the provision of services available in rural post offices, the Government needs to take a long, hard look at its proposed Access Criteria. In rural areas 3 miles is not a meaningful criteria, as ease of access is dependent on transport links and the terrain.
“Before any closures are carried out, a meaningful community impact assessment should be undertaken. We also called for voluntary retirements of those sub-postmasters who wish to retire to be sought before compulsory closures are imposed.
“While I have my doubts whether a reduced hours 'outreach' service in a mobile van or village hall can match the service and convenience to customers of a manned Post Office, it is important that any new outreach service is rolled out primarily in rural areas where Post Offices are closing or have already closed in recent years.”