Time to act on the Post Office network, says Postcomm

On 30 Septmeber Postcomm emphasised the need for swift action to ensure that the network of Post Offices has a sustainable future. In its second annual report on the Post Office network to Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Postcomm highlights the need to finalise activity in four key areas:

§ Announcing financial assistance for rural Post Offices

§ Merging some urban Post Offices and improving those that remain

§ Implementing a scheme to support Post Offices in urban deprived areas

§ Ensuring the Card Account at the Post Office and Basic Bank Accounts are available at Post Offices by April 2003, when benefits and pensions will start to be paid into people’s bank accounts.

The report points out that Postcomm’s work on a shared long term vision for the Post Office network can only really begin when these initiatives have moved further forward.

Graham Corbett, chairman of Postcomm said:

“Over the past year, we have seen considerable evidence of the willingness of Post Office Ltd and subpostmasters to get on with improving the future prospects of the Post Office network. Although much action has also been initiated by Government, the external perception is of disappointingly slow progress in some key areas. Part of the underlying problem is that it is difficult for bold decisions to be taken on necessary changes when the parent company, Consignia, is undergoing a period of upheaval and the closure of even one Post Office branch can meet great opposition. It is important that action is taken quickly to improve the business prospects for subpostmasters and preserve the post office network.”

Other key points in the report include:

§ Postcomm emphasises the need for ensuring continued access to Post Office services, rather than maintaining a specific number of Post Office branches.

§ The services offered by Post Office branches in rural and urban deprived areas are particularly important for the over-65s, disabled people, carers, single parents and those without access to a car. The key services for these vulnerable groups are mailing, bill payment and collection of pensions and benefits.

§ Post Office Ltd should continue to develop the concepts of satellite and mobile branches and examine other possible ways of providing Post Office services to small communities where Post Office branches close but vulnerable groups need services.

§ Although 371 rural Post Office branches closed in 2001/02, 177 reopened. Almost a third of the total rural closures were of branches with less than 70 customers a week and no attached business. Some of these reopened with the active help of Post Office Ltd’s Rural Transfer Advisers. Postcomm questions whether it is sensible, under the requirement placed on Post Office Ltd by Government to ‘prevent all avoidable closures’, to work hard to reopen all rural Post Office branches which have closed – especially when they have no attached shop and are supported by few customers.

§ After subpostmaster resignations, commercial transfers were achieved for 70% of rural and 86% of urban branches in 2001/02. To secure subpostmasters’s confidence in the future viability of the network, Government and Post Office Ltd need to work fast to ensure that future business prospects improve.

Notes for editors

Postcomm’s second report on the Post Office network builds upon its first report by updating the statistics on the post office network and providing further data from research undertaken for Postcomm by Environmental Resources Management in May 2001.

At the end of March 2002, there were 17,584 post offices trading, following 262 net closures – including 194 in rural areas — in the preceding 12 months. In the same period, 1,588 businesses containing a post office changed hands and 223 post offices re-opened in communities where a post office had previously closed.

Almost all UK post offices (97%) are privately owned; subpostmasters operate as agents to Consignia. Post offices close when subpostmasters resign and no replacement subpostmaster comes forward to take over existing premises, or no new premises can be found when former premises are converted to residential use. Consignia directly operates 589 post offices.

Postcomm – the Postal Services Commission – is an independent regulator. It has been set up to further the interests of users of postal services. Postcomm’s main tasks are to:
· Seek to ensure a universal postal service at a uniform tariff
· Encourage competition in postal services
· License postal operators
· Control postal prices and quality of service
· Give advice on the Post Office network.

Postcomm’s policies are steered by a board of seven commissioners, headed by the chairman, Graham Corbett CBE.

More information: Chris Webb Tel 020 7593 2114
Mobile 07779 635881
E [email protected]
Or [email protected]

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