THE Countryside Alliance has become the latest organisation to enter the debate on rural Post Offices as it calls on the Government to break its "deafening silence" over the future of a network that lost £111 million last year alone.
Over 14,000 sub-Post Offices face uncertainty over the future of £150 million of Government subsidies after 2008, whilst important contracts such as TV licensing and the Post Office Card Account have already been lost.
The Government's deafening silence and its failure to deliver a sustainable strategy for the future of the network amounts to a programme of closure by default
Robert Gray - Countryside Alliance
The Alliance's intervention comes as industry watchdog Postcomm warns that the rural network urgently needs a direction from the Government to secure its future, adding that the £111 million loss comes on top of the current subsidy.
Without Ministerial action the future looks bleak; Government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions and DVLA are withdrawing services from Post Offices - revenue from transactions carried out by the network on behalf of the Government has fallen by £168 million since last year.
Nigel Stapleton, chairman of Postcomm, said: "The Government must decide what it wants from the Post Office network and plan for its long-term sustainability.
"The network needs a clear vision and consultation is needed at national and local level taking into account the plans for regions as a whole."
Countryside Alliance Director of Campaigns, Robert Gray, commented: "Post Offices are facing death by a thousand cuts, with the Government failing to make a decision on the future of Post Office subsidies whilst services are removed one by one.
"The value of the Post Office network cannot be measured simply in financial terms. The social impact of closures on many communities, especially those in marginal rural areas, would be enormous. Many isolated rural areas rely on their Post Offices for more than just the services they provide - they rely on them as the centre of their community, and without that focus many communities face disintegration.
"The Government's deafening silence and its failure to deliver a sustainable strategy for the future of the network amounts to a programme of closure by default."
I am a sub Postmaster and own a Post Office in an ex-mining village in South Yorkshire. In the last 18 months I have invested £28,000 in the upgrading of my post office services including a full modernisation. I see this as being the future. I have made this substantial investment in my business because I believe that it will give me a better return on my overall investment and hence more income on which to live.
On one hand we at the Post Office are being told by government policy to be self financing and to generate more business - fair comment until one considers how much government business is actively being withdrawn by government departments ......On the other hand we are told to provide services for the community for which we receive no payment whatsoever eg. Driving Licence Applications, Passport forms, DWP stationery and information, EHIC applications (E111), NS&I full range stationery, the list is endless.
This takes no account of the request which all Post Offices have daily for help; Examples over the last 4 days:
A new widow doesnt know where to turn for what she has to do next - her husband died 6 days ago and she turned to the only friendly faces she could think of .....
A mother wanting a visa for her daughter who is in Africa - who should she contact?
Young man wants to fit cherished number plates to his car for his girlfried - what does he have to do?
My benefit has not gone into my account this week - what will I live on?
I need to fill this form for an insurance claim for my car - I dont understand it and I cant write very well....
My daughter has been robbed in Spain and has no money - I want to send her some Spanish money urgent How do I do it?
Personal lives needing personal help
What price that at the Post Office?
Bruce Hird - Thurcroft Post Office