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Crunch week for rural post offices

[Monday 11 December 2006]
rural post office
Rural Post Offices set to close?

NEWS leaked at the weekend says that the Government is likely to announce the closure of some 2,000 rural post offices this week, despite months of protest from sub-postmasters, country folk and opposition politicians.

According to the Sunday Times, trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling will tell the House of Commons on Thursday that some 3,000 sub post offices will have to close next year - and although the number will include many in urban areas, the majority will be in the countryside.

Anticipating further howls of protest - the post office is often the only shop in thousands of small villages, a lifeline particularly for pensioners without cars - Darling will sugar the pill with "redundancy" payments of between £40,000 and £70,000 for closed post masters and give a subsidy of some £150 million to keep the remainder open.

It could be worse: the Royal Mail, which is fighting increased competition from recently licensed private mail and parcel deliveries, says its business could survive with just 4,000 post offices - a massive 10,000 less than the present number.

The main reason for the closures is that in recent years, the Government has stripped sub post offices of many of their services, like paying out pensions and welfare benefits, providing road tax discs and TV licences and even fishing licenses.

It was fees from these transactions that kept many country offices open, allowing them to stock a basic range of foods and other products in villages across the Yorkshire Dales with poor or even non-existent public transport. When they close, poorer local residents will face major difficulty buying basic foodstuffs like bread.

However, Thursday's announcement might not be quite so drastic. Government spin doctors have a habit of leaking extra bad news early - causing the public to heave a sigh of relief when the actual measures are not as bad as they feared.

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