Tory leader hails PO campaigners

CONSERVATIVE leader Michael Howard yesterday hailed the success of campaigners who have forced Royal Mail to keep some post office services in east Ipswich previously threatened with closure.

By Graham Dines

CONSERVATIVE leader Michael Howard yesterday hailed the success of campaigners who have forced Royal Mail to keep some post office services in east Ipswich previously threatened with closure.

The East Anglian Daily Times launched its Save Our Post Offices campaign more than four years ago when scores of rural sub offices were in the firing line as a result of Royal Mail's money saving modernisation programme.

These were inspired by the Government's decision to allow pensioners and other claimants to receive their benefits by direct payment to bank accounts rather than over the counter at post offices, making many branches uneconomic.

The rolling closure of post offices then moved into towns. Ipswich is the latest location to come under the spotlight, with three sub offices in Felixstowe Road, St John's and Ruskin Road facing the axe.

But campaigners have forced a partial rethink by Royal Mail. Although St John's post office in Spring Road is still earmarked for closure, its business will be transferred 80 yards to the Co-op supermarket in Cauldwell Hall Road.

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However Ruskin Road and Felixstowe Road have not been reprieved and the Conservatives led by Parliamentary candidate Paul West last week held a public meeting to protest at the plans.

Yesterday, they were supported in person by Mr Howard, who visited the Ruskin Road and St John's offices. He said the closures being implemented by the Royal Mail throughout Britain were an "inevitable consequence" of the Government's decision to urge pensioners and other claimants to receive benefits direct into bank accounts.

"In theory you are being given a choice," he told a crowd of shoppers and Tory activists in Ruskin Road. "But in order to keep your benefits paid over your local post office counter, you have to fill out a long and complicated application form which many people find totally bewildering."

Mr Howard claimed: "It's thanks to the Conservative Party here in Ipswich, and the energy of the local community, that has saved services St John's office. But more are threatened with closure and there is much work still to be done."

Later, Mr Howard attended a lunch for Tory Party workers from across Suffolk at the Marriott Hotel in Ipswich, attended by three Euro MPs Geoffrey Van Orden, Bashir Khanbhai and Robert Sturdy, who are seeking re-election to the European Parliament in June.

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