Fight on to save threatened post offices

LORNA MARSH Scores of rural post office closures across Norfolk and Suffolk will sound the death knell for local communities, campaigners and MPs warned today.

LORNA MARSH

Scores of rural post office closures across Norfolk and Suffolk will sound the death knell for local communities, campaigners and MPs warned today.

They are now gearing up for the fight to save the future of hundreds of post offices in East Anglia under threat after the government confirmed 2,500 closures across the UK following a consultation exercise on the future of the network.

A number of post offices in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are expected to be included in the announcement. However, a Post Office spokesman told the EDP no details of where the cuts will fall will be given until the end of consultations which will now be held to identify branches which will close.

“We will work very closely with Postwatch, the body representing Post Office users, both to plan for an accessible and sustainable network based on the criteria, and to consult and inform local users about the changes taking place as a result of the Government decision,” he said.

A spokesman for the Norfolk Rural Community Council (NRCC) said the cuts would mean the likely closure of many of the small village shops that operate post office concessions relying on that income to remain viable.

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“In addition to these primary losses in services anyone who has ever been in a local post office or shop will understand that they are often the hub of community life and provide informal support and help to many local residents,” he said.

“As always these losses will affect the most vulnerable members of our society: the elderly, the disabled, those less well off and without access to transport.”

But Jon Clemo, development manager for the NRCC, said a crumb of comfort could be had after the government set criteria that 95pc of communities should be within three miles of a branch and that public transport had to be taken into account while deciding on closures.

Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, said the news was a “body blow” for the county, estimating that 60 branches could close.

Tony Wright, MP for Yarmouth said the fight was now on to save branches after the initial wave of closures from 2002 to 2004.

From March 2001 to June 2006 the number of branches in the Eastern region went down from 1,632 to 1,365.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, branded the news was “very depressing and unacceptable” and accused the government of complacency when expanding the type of operations post offices undertake could have saved branches.

Christopher Fraser, MP for South West Norfolk, called the decision a “disgrace”.

“It seems to me that the Government's policy of deciding closures on so-called access criteria means that even successful Post Offices may close just because of their geography.

“The government… has failed to give sub-postmasters the freedom they need to expand their business, and failed to give elderly and disadvantaged people in rural communities the security of knowing that their post office will remain open.”

A spokesman for the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters said though the planned closures are “bitterly regretted” the organisation accepted them as a first step in establishing a sustainable network.

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