Our world no longer revolves around a post office counter
GONE are the days where communities revolved around a bustling post office, and that’s a fact – four million fewer people a week are now using the network than two years ago.
The post office may once have been a hub for collecting benefits and state pensions, paying car tax and TV licence fees, obtaining a form for a passport, and was used by many as a savings bank. But times have changed and most people now prefer to do their business in other ways, such as paying by direct debit or online.
This shift in social trends has doubled the Post Office’s losses in the UK from about 2 million a week in 2005-06 to almost 4m a week in 2006-07, and more than 20 branches have already closed in Edinburgh since 2001.
Later this month the same number could be earmarked for closure again as part of a nationwide rationalisation programme that will see 2500 Post Office branches put under threat.
Critics claim thousands of people in the city will be severely disadvantaged by the reduction in the network. But the reality is that fewer people rely on post offices than ever.
When delivery services opened to rival companies in 2006, the organisation went into the red for the first time, recording an operating loss of 12m compared with a profit of 197m for the previous year.
The only unique services now offered by post offices are postal orders and parcels.
While Government business used to generate 60 per cent of all transactions this has reduced significantly and by 2020 it is forecast the figure will fall to below ten per cent.
So, while it can no longer be seriously argued that post offices are vital to providing public services, when threatened with closure it seems people are desperate to keep hold of their local branches.
In fact, Liberal Democrat councillor Conor Snowden, who is to chair a cross-party working group on the post office closures, says he wants the council to consider offering post office services from its own premises, such as rented offices and libraries.
People may argue that post offices are at the heart of the community. But the same was said of village pubs, and all those social clubs and bingo halls that were supposedly going to fold when the smoking ban came into force. Could it be that people are just reluctant to change?
Post Office Ltd has eight times more branches than Tesco and more branches than all the other UK banks put together, and the Government says that without ongoing public support a purely commercial network would comprise fewer than 4000 branches – 10,000 fewer than are currently operating.
It is estimated a massive 7m a week of Government funding would be required to keep the current post office network going.
While the country feels the bite of the credit crunch, it could be argued that the Government cash being spent to prop up flagging branches would be better diverted elsewhere.
In fact, even with the proposed 2500 closures, 1.7 billion of taxpayer’s money will be pumped into post offices between 2007 and 2011.
Each area of the country is expected to suffer around a 20 per cent drop in the number of branches open to the public, although Post Office Ltd says there is no target number of closures in any one area.
In May this year Edinburgh City Council voted to condemn these post office closures and has vowed to minimise the impact in the Capital. Hundreds of people have already signed a petition against any closures in East Lothian.
The branches earmarked for closure will be revealed when official consultation is opened later this month.
But the consultation exercise elsewhere in the UK has already come in for criticism.
Help the Aged, which says older people are a primary customer base for the Post Office, with thousands collecting their pensions direct from their local post office each week, pointed out that despite nearly 100,000 responses to public consultation on closure plans and almost 500 hours of meetings, less than four per cent of branches originally marked for closure have been saved.
And the consultation process in Fife has been branded a “sham” by Fife Council leaders after it was announced last week that all 15 proposed closures would go ahead, despite Fifers paying more than 200,000 worth of bills at the branches since Fife Council switched payments for bills such as rent and council tax from local service centres to Post Office branches and Pay Point outlets in April.
The six-week consultation period for Edinburgh and the Lothians begins on August 19, and details can be accessed online at www.postoffice.co.uk or by writing to the company.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West