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Sugar coating for post office bitter pill

[Thursday 14 December 2006]
rural post office closures
Post Office closures - Government betrays rural

THE Government today tried to sugar-coat plans to close 2,500 mainly rural post offices with some minor new pledges - but failed miserably in the eyes most country folk.

Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling revealed the 2,500 figure to the House of Commons, a figure less than the 3,000 that had been widely trailed in Government leaks and a mere quarter of the 10,000 that the Royal Mail is said to have wanted (as we forecast, see News Monday).

And no doubt aware of the furore the decision will create in isolated rural areas such as the Yorkshire Dales, Darling sugared the pill by saying that 500 "outreach" mobile post offices would be created to visit remote communities and the Post Office Card scheme, which allows people to draw pensions and other benefits in cash, would be extended beyond the year 2010 when it was due to expire.

He also said redundant sub-post masters and mistresses would be compensated with up to 28 months' income - but salaries in small village offices often as low as £2,000 a year, the amount involved in this is minimal.

The Conservatives immediately launched a bitter attack. "This will bring fear and despondency and destroy hundreds of businesses," said Tory spokesman Charles Hendry. Pointing out that 4,000 offices had already closed under New Labour; he said the new measures would mean the post office service being condemned to years of decline.

Other rural organisations responded with equal vigour. Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart commented: "The Government obviously thinks that there is no such thing as community, and has completely missed the point. The social value of the Post Office network cannot be measured in financial terms.

the network currently costs the Government £150 million a year, which equates to 75 John Prescotts. It is clear which offers better value for

Simon Hart - Countryside Alliance

"The rural sub-Post Office network has become increasingly uneconomic exactly because of the policies of this Government. It should now be looking at how to increase viability whilst maintaining the vital social lifeline the network provides to thousands of communities.

"These plans give us a glimpse of a chilling future where broadband takes over from human interaction and communities become service-free dormitories with no heart. A mobile Post Office can never be the centre of village life.

"Maintaining the network currently costs the Government £150 million a year, which equates to 75 John Prescotts. It is clear which offers better value for money".

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