Westminster report by Jim Paice MP for SE Cambridgeshire: Protect our post offices

PUBLISHED: 11:21 29 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:50 04 May 2010

Jim Paice MP

Jim Paice MP

FAR from being a relic of a by-gone age, as the Government might have you believe, the post office is often the lifeblood of the local community, relied upon for stamps, pensions, savings, banking, insurance, licenses and a whole range of other services.

FAR from being a relic of a by-gone age, as the Government might have you believe, the post office is often the lifeblood of the local community, relied upon for stamps, pensions, savings, banking, insurance, licenses and a whole range of other services.

This might sound sentimental in the age of the internet, but judging by the queues at Ely Post Office recently, there is a healthy demand for the service.

People using the St John's Road branch have experienced problems lately as staff shortages have resulted in sporadic lunchtime closures and lengthy waits. For a growing city the size of Ely this is unsatisfactory and I am working with Postwatch, the industry watchdog, to get a better deal for customers.

I am confident that the situation here will improve but 10 villages in my constituency have lost their post offices in recent years with many more under threat.

Post offices in rural areas have been closing at a rate of four each week, since 2000 and that trend could be about to get a lot worse. This was made clear by the chief executive of Royal Mail, Adam Crozier, who said recently that the system could operate with just one quarter of the current branches.

Such a drastic reduction - 11,000 branches across the UK - would strip South East Cambridgeshire of another 26 post offices and leave local people - particularly the elderly and those with mobility problems - dependent on services many miles away. There are also economic consequences. Research has found that if a typical post office closed, even in small communities of 500 to 1,000 people, the community would incur a cost of £50,000 a year through loss of business and increased travel costs.

Clearly there are some rural post offices which are unsustainable because only very few people use them, but I have visited numerous branches across the constituency where the demand is high, despite Government initiatives that undermine them, such as the ending of the Post Office card account - which was a deeply unpopular decision - and the opening of new regional Passport Offices.

Then there is the decision to stop selling and renewing TV licenses, despite the fact that five million people across the UK obtain their television licenses from the Post Office. The Government - who let us not forget are the majority shareholder in the Royal Mail - appear to be administering death by a thousand cuts to the post office network

The Post Office has to be run as efficiently as possible, but the starting point should be that local branches are usually essential local services rather than a luxury. What the Government must provide is a clear long-term strategy to keep them. Rather than building huge new towns and restricting growth in villages, we need policies which allow organic growth of communities and therefore justify the retention of vital services such as the post office, which are very often the social hub of the community.

In harsh economic terms, post offices may be unsustainable, but in the long-term it is the current policy of building huge new conurbations with little regard for supporting infrastructure or the social consequences that better fits that description.

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