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Village post offices: the last nail in the rural coffin?

Friday 29 September 2006

As politicians prance, pose and back-stab their way through the party conference season, our countryside commentator John Sheard fulminates about the lack of interest in a crucial survey which forecasts a bleak future for the English village

THERE really was a cheque in the post this week, posted off by my wife to pay a £131.50p tax that we bitterly resent: the cost of the TV licence which we are forced to pay by law despite that fact that we don't use any of its "products."

We don't watch the TV output of the Banal Broadcasting Corporation because it is so mind-bendingly dumb. We have switched off the radio because of the political correctness of what our hard-pressed troops call the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation, which delights when brave soldiers get blown to bits by rocket propelled grenades but refuses to call their murderers Muslim terrorists.

Rural post office RIP
Rural post office RIP?

If I sound like a grumpy old man, I have the absolute right to be so after a week in national politics which proved without doubt that the modern politician is much more interested in stabbing his colleagues in the back than running this once wonderful country of ours.

But in all the blutfest* at the Labour Party conference, did any of them bother to study a report which presented the most profoundly shocking forecast for the future of rural life in England that I have ever read? It suggested that 8,000 of the 8, 037 rural post offices in England will close in the next few years, with devastating knock-effects on village life (See News, Thursday).

And that's why my much-resented television licence comes into the picture. For highlighted in large type on the demand notice are these words: "Please note you can no longer pay your Licence at the Post Office."

According to the charity Age Concern, which carried out the survey, it is Treasury decisions to cut back on the role of post offices to pay things like old age pensions, welfare benefits and other services that have doomed rural post offices to inevitable decline. It was the fees on these transactions that kept the post offices, often the only shop in a village, in business.

Without them, hundreds of thousands of rural pensioners would have nowhere to buy basic food items without facing long, expensive and tiresome bus journeys to the local town. In the end, the older folk would be forced out of the villages leaving them to become ever more dormitory communities for long-distance commuters or rich second-home owners.

In other words, this would be the final nail in the coffin of English village as we know it - and that is the conclusion of Age Concern after the most detailed survey ever taken on the subject. The fact that I have been banging on about it for years, and now have been proved right, gives me absolutely no pleasure at all.

What has sickened me most of all this week, however, were the boasts of Gordon Brown about being the friend of the poor and the old in a stomach churning attempt to prove - to use Tony Blair's phrase, not mine - that he is a "member of the human race."

It is, after all, Brown who has forced the Royal Mail to take away life-sustaining business from country post offices in order to save a few pennies whilst he continued to sink billions into the bottomless pits of the NHS and our schools whilst standards in both have continued to plummet.

All those civil servants - including the extra 900,000 his government has taken on - are due to have index linked pensions and a retirement age, apart from recent recruits, of 60 whilst the rest of us will be forced to work in into our dotage.

Trouble is, the government now employs 40% of this nation's workforce. That's an awful lot of votes, which is why Blair and Brown backed down before the last general election on promises to reform public sector pensions.

There was no talk at the Labour Party conference of the fact that the "black-hole" in public sector pension schemes now runs to a staggering £40,000 for every family in the land (including the 60% who don't work for the government). Many areas of English life will be penalised to fill that enormous abyss.

Few of that will come from the inner cities, because that's where Labour voters live. So it will be country folk, few of whom work in the public sector (or live on welfare benefits) who will have to pick up a disproportionate chunk of the bill. So who cares about a few thousand village shops? In fact, who cares about the English village at all: the people, perhaps, but certainly not the politicians.

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Your views:

  • One thing you can continue to do is tax your vehicle at many post offices (like Gargrave). You will get a quick efficient delivery of your licence with only a minimum of waiting and also a friendly smile to make you feel better.

    Chris Wright - Gargrave

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