Cautious welcome for five-year pledge on post-office closures

Post Office sign. Photo credit: Lewis Stickley/PA Wire

Post Office sign. Photo credit: Lewis Stickley/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A pledge not to close more post offices for five years has been cautiously welcomed by an organisation that campaigns for rural communities in Norfolk.

Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells yesterday told Radio 4's Today programme 'a new model' for post offices was needed, but insisted she was putting a focus on protecting rural and community branches.

Asked about the government subsidy for the Post Office, she said: 'The money that the government has given us is now an investment. The really good news about that is that the 11,800 post offices we have today will stay, and hopefully at some stage we may even have more.'

She said the closure of 2,500 branches when she first took the post was 'the worst job I have had in my life', and admitted the loss of branches had 'decimated communities'. Ms Vennells pointed to a new model including post offices being housed in convenience shops, and said there were growth areas for branches, such as online parcels click-and-collect services and new Post Office banking services.

Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk rural community council, said: 'On the face of it, it's good news, but there are a number of trends and issues that link to this. One is maintaining an actual branch being open is not the same as changing opening hours or the type of services on offer in that branch. There is also the question of when branches naturally close.

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'It has been challenging to find a replacement sub-postmaster and premises to maintain a network because for many people it is not necessarily a very attractive life.'

However, he said the bigger question was access to services in rural areas, with the government's strategy that services should be provided online by default causing challenges such as access to broadband and computers, and having skills and confidence to use them.

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He added: 'I think the key thing here is that we have to approach all of this not as 'how do we maintain post offices in our rural communities?', but 'how do we make sure people in our communities have access to the services they need?'.'

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