Last Updated: 08 November 2010
Created: 08 November 2010
This week I took part in a crucial debate on the future of the Post Office network.
Post Offices are essential to our local communities with a staggering 20 million people a week using them. Post Offices are heavily used by the most vulnerable people in society, including older people, disabled people, people on low incomes and also those living in rural areas. In addition Post Offices provide individuals and small businesses with an unrivalled range of mail, government, banking and retail services, as well as informal advice and support, in a trusted local environment.
I was totally opposed to the former Labour Government’s closure programme which saw 7000 Post Offices close, including a number across Swindon. I was appalled at the time to see Labour politicians posturing to protect our vital Post Offices, before heading into the voting lobbies to condemn the network to this massive closure programme, with scant regard for the impact on local communities.
I fully support the Government’s plans to protect and enhance the Post Office network, supported by a £1.3 billion investment. However, even with this welcomed investment the Post Office network has reached a critical point in its history and much needs to be done to stabilise and improve the network.
Firstly, we need to free up the Post Office to offer additional services to allow them to generate additional income. For example, they could become a service point for all mail and parcel delivery companies, maximising the Ebay and small business market.
Secondly, we should encourage shared services. As we have seen with the merger of the Old Town Library and the Arts Centre, by merging facilities we can not only save money on rent and rates, but drive up footfall. This is particularly important in rural areas where a standalone Post Office provision may not be financially viable, so for example I have supported the Red Lion pub’s application in Castle Eaton to take over the running of the Post Office provision for their local community. I raised this issue in the debate itself.
Thirdly, both local authorities and governments need to see ways to deliver services through the network. For example this could include paying Council Tax through the Post Office, or providing a face to face complement to existing web-based government information and services.
Finally, banking should be a major service provided by the Post Office network. Not only should it be a standalone bank, but could also provide full access to all major high street bank accounts. This is essential not only to improve the viability of the Post Office network, but also - with the extensive branch closures of banks - it allows local communities to maintain vital access to local banking services.