Post Office network will flourish with “sufficient political will”

July 8, 2009 at 1:48 pm Leave a comment

postoffice
A committee of MPs has produced a report on the future of the UK’s post office network.

At present there are more than 12,000 Post Office branches.

They serve more than 22 million customers a week who make 63 million transactions.

According to the Post Office website 93% of the UK adult population visit a branch each year.

“The network has been underused and underappreciated by the Government, which has recognised the role of the post office network in sustaining communities, but has frequently failed to link that to the actions of individual departments,” according to the Business and Enterprise Committee.

“The Government’s own access criteria could be met by a network of 7,500; on this basis, the network could in theory be decreased by 4,500 branches.

“The Government has said that it does not wish the network to decrease from its current size, but there is little clarity about why it wants a network (of 12,000 outlets) so much larger than the access criteria require.

“We share the Government’s view that the network should not be diminished, but remain concerned by the lack of justification for the network’s current size.

“Indeed, to meet the principles we set out below, it may even be necessary to re-establish post offices in communities that have lost them.”

The committee said there are five services post offices should provide: mail services, financial services, local government services, central government services and broader community services.

“The Government should support the post office network, but it has a right to expect that the network will be as efficient as possible,” the committee said.

“Under current regulatory arrangements, while Postcomm reports and advises on the post office network, it has no direct responsibility for it.

“Broadly speaking, this will continue if regulatory responsibility passes to Ofcom.”

Last week the government shelved plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail.

“Whatever happens to the Postal Services Bill, the Government is, and will remain, Post Office Ltd’s only shareholder,” the committee said.

“It cannot duck responsibility for the efficiency of the network.

“In a situation where there is no competition and there are sound reasons for making government services available through post offices, the Government may have to be more involved than a shareholder might traditionally be.”

The government spends £150m a year supporting the post office network.

“Some local authorities are also taking commendable steps to support their post office network directly,” the committee said.

“But financial support is not enough.

“Post offices have to provide the services their communities need; whether these are central or local government services, or fundamentally private services, such as banking, or even access to retail, much more attention needs to be paid to the potential of the post office in helping the Government deliver its aims.

“The post office network depends on very many private providers; their needs must also be considered.

“It is a difficult balancing act, but it is one that has been performed for nearly 400 years.

“Having looked in depth at the issues confronting the post office network we are convinced that, given sufficient political will from both central and local government and a real determination to sustain and develop a priceless national asset, there is no reason why the network cannot flourish again, serving the whole nation in a uniquely valuable way.

“The passions the Network Change programme provoked showed that communities value their post offices — now it is time for politicians to step up to the mark and give post offices their wholehearted practical support.

“We conclude that post offices can flourish again — and must be allowed to do so. Our report shows what needs to be done.”

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