'Show us figures which back PO axe'

A PUBLIC sector forum is to call on the Post Office to release business reports on all of the branches in Suffolk which are threatened or have already been closed.

David Green

A PUBLIC sector forum is to call on the Post Office to release business reports on all of the branches in Suffolk which are threatened or have already been closed.

The move, under the Freedom of Information Act, is being made by the Suffolk Accountable Bodies Group (ABG) which is still to be convinced that the businesses - considered an important part of the social fabric of the county - are economically unviable.

Under the previous and current programme of closures, up to 50 post offices in the county could be closed, many of them in villages and some in towns.

The current closure programme involves 16 post offices in west Suffolk. The previous programme led to the closure of 34 in the east and south of the county, some off them being replaced with part-time outreach services.

The Government has decided to close up to 2,500 branches nationally, claiming it is necessary to counter mounting financial losses and falling customer numbers.

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The ABG is a strategic decision-making body set up by the Government, comprising the leaders of local authorities and organisations such as Suffolk Primary Care Trust, Suffolk Police Authority and Suffolk Development Agency.

Chairman, Tim Passmore, disclosed yesterday that a Freedom of Information application was being made to the Post Office for the business reports of the post offices included in the current closure programme and those already closed as a result of the first programme.

“We want to see the evidence behind the decision-making process and we have included those post offices already closed because it may be possible to get them re-opened,” he said.

Mr Passmore, who is also leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said post offices were more than straightforward businesses, having social importance for many people, including the elderly and disadvantaged.

“We are not saying that there is a case for every post office to stay open but what we are saying is that the closure programme as announced is unacceptable,” he said.

Mr Passmore said the closure programme was on the back of a Government planning policy which would leave 75% of villages without the chance of further development - “often the path to sustainability” - apart from in exceptional circumstances.

“We are not prepared to stand by and see the destruction of communities with these absurd policies,” he added.

One closure-threatened village post office with an apparently strong economic case is at Gislingham where sub-postmaster Geoff Laurence opened new premises two years ago with the full approval of Post Office Limited.

The post office is an integral part of the village shop run by Mr Laurence and his wife for the past 20 years. The business now employs 14 people, most of them part-time.

“We have between 750 and 1,000 customers each week and between two-thirds and three-quarters of them use the post office. On top of that there are plans for considerable further developments in the village,” said Mr Laurence, who has been a sub-postmaster for a total of 33 years.

There was a “fair chance” that the shop would not survive if the post office was closed, he said.

He is concerned that people are not writing to Post Office Limited in sufficient numbers to force a change of heart. The ten-week consultation is due to end on June 2.

Chris Tutin, chairman of Gislingham Parish Council, said: “I am sure we will be writing a strong letter of protest.”

A Post Office spokesman said: “We will consider the Freedom of Information request under normal procedures.”

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