Postmasters in the UK have gathered half a million signatures in the first two weeks of a campaign demanding the government award a “vital” contract to Post Office Ltd.
The National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) said yesterday that thousands of post offices will “struggle to survive” if the Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency decides against giving the network the GBP 60m-a-year deal.
A decision on the 10-year contract, which would allow people to continue applying for drivers’ licenses in post offices, is expected to come from the Department of Transport next month.
The NFSP has been asking post office customers to sign postcards pledging their support for the campaign, which will then be sent to their local Member of Parliament.
The Federation said a separate opinion poll it has commissioned shows that nine in 10 people believe it is important for DVLA services to remain available at post offices.
A similar proportion of people believe a full range of government services, including passport applications, pensions and benefits, should be available from post offices.
The poll suggested that three quarters of people believe the post office to be the “most appropriate place” for face-to-face government service access, with just 11% of people suggesting supermarkets were the most appropriate place.
George Thomson, general secretary of the NFSP, said the “huge public backing” of the Federation’s campaign showed how vital key government services were to Post Office customers and the viability of the network.
Thomson said: “The DVLA contract must be awarded exclusively to the Post Office. Failure to do so would result in catastrophe for our post offices, and would leave in tatters the government’s policy of using our post offices as the ‘front office for government’.”
The NFSP says the DVLA contract is a “framework contract” that means if the Post Office network wins it, it would be able to secure other government contracts in future without having to go through a competitive tender process.
The Federation, which represents the 11,500 independent subpostmasters that run post office branches within the Post Office Ltd network, says its opinion poll suggested nearly two thirds of people know someone who would be affected if DVLA services were no longer available at post offices.
“It is clear from our opinion poll that the vast majority of people trust and respect the Post Office and consider it to be the natural home for accessing important government services,” said Thomson.
“No other organisation can offer the same level of professionalism, expertise and security to the public across such a wide geographical reach, or provide as much value for money to the tax payer.”
Post Office Ltd became independent from the Royal Mail Group in April of this year, although it continues to be owned by the government. Ministers are hoping to turn it into a mutual organisation, owned by its employees and key stakeholders.
Visited by nearly 20m customers a week, the Post Office network made a total of GBP 801m in revenue during 2011 (up 3% on 2010), making a GBP 59m profit excluding modernisation costs (nearly triple the profit made in 2010).
Last year Post Office Ltd generated about 17% of its revenue by providing government services, slightly up on 2010 despite the loss of a GBP 20m-per-year benefits contract in 2011.
This year has seen new public sector contracts secured from the UK Border Agency, a number of London councils and pilot projects with the Department of Work and Pensions.