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Monday, June 02, 2008

Fighting for our Post Offices

Saturday's South Wales Evening Post reports that 23 Post Offices are to be earmarked for closure in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Neath Port Talbot. I am aware that when the official announcement is made tomorrow there will also be closures proposed for Pembrokeshire and Bridgend.

This cull comes on top of the 4,000 Post Offices so far closed by Labour since 1997, 150 of them in Wales and 22 of them in Swansea. Their plan is to close another 2,500 branches across the UK in this latest reorganisation, a euphemism if ever I heard one. The Conservatives are no better, they closed 3,500 Post Offices when they were in office.

Some commenters on the Evening Post site suggest that if people used these Post Offices more often then they would not be closing. It is true that they are making a loss and need to be subsidised. However, the Post Office is more than a business, it is a community resource. As such it is right that it is treated differently to other businesses.

Research for Postwatch in 2004 showed that 75% of those surveyed felt their local office was ‘extremely important’; 59% thought it was ‘essential to their way of life’; 91% agreed that post office plays an ‘important role in their local community’; 86% felt that losing a post office often means ‘a lot of people lose their independence’; and 27% found it difficult to get to another post office when their local one closed. These figures increased among the elderly or those with disabilities affecting their mobility.

Personally, I try to use the Post Office whenever I can, resisting blandishments to renew my road tax on-line or over the telephone for example. However, one of the key factors in the decline of Post Offices is the removal of Government business from them. In 2006/07 the value of services withdrawn by the government equalled £168 million whilst Post Offices made an operating loss of £111 million.

There are further threats to our Post Offices on the horizon. Those in the business are warning that if they do not win the contract for the new Post Office Card Account then another 4,000 branches may close. This is not viable. The Liberal Democrats have a plan that would invest an additional £2 billion in the Post Office network. The Government needs to revisit this issue and find ways to prevent the devastation to local communities that their closure plans are bringing.
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