Post Office network has '5 years left'
SUB Postmasters from across the region have descended on Whitehall to issue a united warning over the future of rural post offices.Hundreds of campaigners travelled to London yesterday for a rally demanding urgent action to prevent further Post Office closures.
By Danielle Nuttall
SUB Postmasters from across the region have descended on Whitehall to issue a united warning over the future of rural post offices.
Hundreds of campaigners travelled to London yesterday for a rally demanding urgent action to prevent further Post Office closures.
They want a U-turn on the decision to withdraw the Post Office Card Account (POCA), used by millions of people to access pensions and benefits, and a promise to protect post offices being stripped of key services.
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Supporters handed Prime Minister Tony Blair a petition signed by four million people, pleading for the Government to avert the crisis.
Beryl Keats, Ipswich and district secretary of the National Federation of Sub Postmasters (NFSP), who was among those at the rally, said the urgency of the issue had never been so great and warned the Post Office network was in danger of dying out in the next five years.
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“Postmasters cannot live on dwindling business, waiting for the Government to makeup its mind,” she said.
“We need reassurances and financial support to keep the businesses going until the Government knows exactly what it wants to do with us.
“Buying a first class stamp will not pay sub postmasters' wages. They have to find ways of bringing business from local authorities, the Government and local businesses to us. To keep post offices going we need business.”
Mrs Keats, sub postmistress of Dales Road Post Office in Ipswich, added: “So many old people are still living in villages which have no longer got a viable bus service. If their post office closes down, it will be a four-hour journey for some to the local town.
“If subsidies are withheld, rural post offices will close and die out.”
Latest figures reveal there have been 63 Post Office closures in Suffolk since 1999 and 57 in north Essex. There are now just 236 left in Suffolk and 208 in north Essex.
Simon Burns, Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, met a constituency delegation in Parliament.
He said: “Under this Labour Government, a quarter of the UK's Post Office network has closed - including over eight post offices in Chelmsford - and more cuts will happen as a result of Labour's plans to abolish the Post Office card account from 2010.
“I have reassured the delegation I met from Chelmsford that the Conservative party believes that the Post Office card account should not be abolished and if we come to power before 2010, when the Government is going to abolish it, we will reverse that decision.”
He added: “In other ways to help sub post offices, a Conservative government would rewrite the contracts, so as to allow sub post offices to provide a greater range of products, including private mail services.”
John Jowers, cabinet member for localism at Essex County Council, said: “The problem is that these things are much more than post offices - they are a meeting place in small communities.”
He added: “If you are an elderly person who doesn't drive, the Post Office is a lifeline.”
The Government says the 800 smallest post offices are used by an average of 16 people a week and the rural network is currently supported by an annual subsidy of £150m.
Mr Blair yesterday ruled out further subsidies, although he pledged to consider all options in the Government's review of the Post Office network.
However, Tory leader David Cameron warned that if decisions were not taken urgently there would be no Post Office network left to protect.
Sally Reeves, president of the NFSP and sub postmistress of Stowupland Post Office, said the Prime Minister had understood how urgent the situation had become: “I have heard today from Tony Blair that there is a willingness to work with us.”