Disappearing post offices: Rishi Sunak needs to realise how important post offices truly are – Christine Jardine
Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, and I resent having to repeat the same issues that need addressed week, after week, month after month. The NHS, the cost-of-living crisis, crumbling public services. The climate.
I could rant about any and all of them. Accuse the government of letting yet another opportunity slip with its autumn statement. Or I could point out the problem with continually telling people that you are making decisions for the long term when what they face are problems in the here and now.
What I would really like to do is bring the Prime Minister to my constituency, or any constituency, to meet real people and talk about real problems. Take him to the local post office to hear the reality of life for the pensioners who, while they are probably relieved that the triple lock will remain on their pensions, are still worried about the NHS, social care or their grandchildren’s future.
First, we would have to find a local post office. Because like so many communities across the country, here in Edinburgh we’re losing them. This week I will lead a debate in parliament on how we address the increasing number which are closing their doors.
Post Office once the ‘front desk of government’
I suspect that if I were to ask a school child today what the Post Office is, I don’t know what they might describe. And I also suspect they would look at you with astonishment if you told them it was once the organisation which provided everything from your telephone services, mail and all sorts of government forms to, yes, those pensions and stamps. Not so long ago, it was central to communities up and down the country, with some of the most spectacular examples of architecture dominating our town centres.
It was where I applied for my driving licence, opened my first savings account and queued for what seemed like hours every Christmas to make sure the family’s cards went off safely. But not now. The Post Office I grew up with in the 60s had 25,000 branches. In 2021, that figure was 11,415 with more than half of them listed as vulnerable. The organisation itself lost £597 million in the same year.
In Scotland, we have the biggest problem having lost more than 6 per cent of post offices in the past two years. In Edinburgh West, two have closed and one relocated to a different area in the past year. The irony is that it still generates around £5bn for the economy every year and, in constituencies like mine, which lost 70 per cent of bank branches since 2017, we increasingly rely on the Post Office for banking services.
If we are to save what was once the front desk of government in our communities from becoming an adjunct slotted into shops willing to put up with it, we need ministers to act. Like so many of our public services – buses, trains, the NHS, water – we need a recognition that it needs investment. Better support for those who supply the service.
If the Prime Minister wants to see for himself, I’m happy to take him to talk to the public in one of my local post offices. While I still can.
Christine Jardine is Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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