Mobile libraries could offer postal services

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Mobile libraries could be used to supply postal services in Norfolk it emerged last night - as a campaign got under way to fight more damaging cuts to the post office network.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Mobile libraries could be used to supply postal services in Norfolk it emerged last night - as a campaign got under way to fight more damaging cuts to the post office network.

County councillors are to lobby ministers against cuts earmarked for next year, amid fears that between 40 and 60 post offices could be closed and the network reduced to 200.

County Hall is keen to sign up MPs to its campaign to fight a further 17pc cut in the network, unveiled as part of the governments' “Network Change Programme” in May.

The authority, which will discuss the issue on Monday, is to write to John Hutton, secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform, setting out its opposition to the impending closures.

In Norfolk between 1999 and 2005, the number of post offices fell from 354 to 275.

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Christopher How, cabinet member for economic development, accused the government of presiding over cuts which had slashed the network by a third.

He said the council is to set up a working group to explore whether county council facilities could be used to provide post offices in the future and make sure information about closures is properly circulated.

“This policy will severely harm urban and rural life all across Norfolk, damaging the social fabric of many of our communities, while hitting the poor, the elderly and the disabled the hardest,” he said. “We recognise we cannot stop all the closures, but we want to limit them as much as we can.

“We want to continue the work we have been doing for some time to encourage the Post Office to provide these services by other means.

“It's often the most deprived people who get hit by these cuts,” he said. “We are trying to ensure that these people get a good service.

“We have a number of information points in the form of libraries and some communities have village halls,” he added. “We are investigating all the options, but it's important to find out what the needs of communities are.”

But he said it was unlikely that the authority would provide a direct subsidy to keep loss-making post offices afloat.

“That's not a suggestion that has been put up by anybody,” he said. “My own view is that it would have to pay it's way and not put additional costs on the council tax.”

Jon Clemo, development team manager at Norfolk Rural Community Council, which is working with the authority, said using council buildings was part of an approach to create 'hubs' and a number of approaches were being developed in the county including a community run shop, in Mileham, near Dereham, a post office in a church, at Newton Flotman, and a satellite post office operating from a kitchen hatch at the village hall at Garveston, near Dereham.

“Its' vital that people in rural areas maintain access to these services, particularly the most vulnerable members of society,” he said. “There are a number of different ways of delivering that and making use of existing community facilities is a fantastic way of doing this.”

Mobile libraries are definitely an option and we are working with the county council on a project.”

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