1,600 rural post offices threatened
MORE than 1,600 rural post offices could face closure under recommendations from the Post Office regulator, it has emerged.They are set out in a review by the Postal Services Commission, PostComm, of the £150 million-a-year subsidy that sustains the rural network of post offices.
MORE than 1,600 rural post offices could face closure under recommendations from the Post Office regulator, it has emerged.
They are set out in a review by the Postal Services Commission, PostComm, of the £150 million-a-year subsidy that sustains the rural network of post offices.
The review is now being considered by the Government, but sub post-masters across East Anglia have been quick to voice their concern.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "It could be run with 1,600 less but that's just the regulators view.
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"We've seen the report and we've been noting their views but any decision is a matter for Royal Mail and the government."
The report by the independent regulator into the long term future of the post offices has been with the government since July last year, but the DTI says there are no immediate plans to publish it.
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The spokeswoman added: "PostComm delivered private advice to the government at the end of July 2003 which included a recommendation about the size of the rural network.
"PostComm also recommended that the government's current policy of no unavoidable closures should continue until there is a wider strategy to ensure delivery of services in rural areas.'
"The government is committed to the future of the rural network and has put in place funding of £150 million a year to sustain the rural network of post offices until at least April 2006.'
The subsidy, known as the social network payment, was introduced by the government in December 2002 following earlier recommendations made by PostComm.
Last night, news of the report received a hostile welcome in East Anglia.
Paul Marks, sub postmaster at Chaplin's post office and stores in Great Finborough near Stowmarket, said: "It's astonishing that so many post offices could be lost – more information is needed about this and quickly.
"Having a rural post office is not just important for its services, but contributes to keeping the shop alive.
"Once you lose a post office you could lose a shop as well. People cherish their post offices, people want the personal contact.''
Patricia Larman, who runs post offices in both Sicklesmere and Stanningfield, near Bury St Edmunds, described PostComm's report as "alarming".
She promised to fight the move, and expressed fear for the future of rural communities should the closures take place.
"Rural branches are becoming more and more important," said Mrs Larman.
"The number given in the regulators report is alarming. It is a huge amount, and it would be the smaller branches which would close. Villages would just become little hamlets of nothingness, which is not fair on the people who actually live there.
"These branches are so desperately needed for all sorts of things. There should be a rural post office within reach of every citizen, and if they are not currently in the right place, they should be moved to make things fair throughout the country."
John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, added: "The post offices are absolutely crucial to rural communities. Normally they make it possible for there to be a shop, where there might not otherwise be one. Destroying villages in this way is intolerable.''
Post office closures are a politically contentious issues, with independent research from Postwatch, a postal watchdog group, showing three quarters (75%) of respondents felt that their local post office was "extremely important' to them, over half (59%) thought it was "essential to their way of life' and 91% agreed that it played "an important role in their local community'.
A spokesman from PostComm said the review of the long term future of the post offices was "substantial' but declined to offer further comment.