Norfolk postmasters welcome new Post Office proposals

New plans to take the post office network out of government control within four years have been welcomed with caution in the county, although there are fears it could be too late for some branches.

The proposals have been outlined in the government-commissioned report, Mutual Options for Post Office Ltd – undertaken by Co-operatives UK, and would mean Post Office Ltd, currently owned by the government, would instead be run by its customers and employees.

The report suggests the network should be 'mutualised', which means it would be owned by its members, giving the local owners of post office branches – the subpostmasters – together with employees, charities, customers and local communities, a much greater say in how the network is run.

It is calling for the network to become a cross between the John Lewis Partnership, which is owned by its employees who receive a bonus each year if the business performs well, and the Co-operative Group, where members are paid a dividend at the end of the year.

But sub-postmasters in the county say although the plans are welcome, it could come too late for some branches which are facing closure.

The current Post Office network has fallen from 19,000 outlets in 1997 to 11,500 today and plans are under way for more branches to be cut.

John Smith, secretary of the Norwich branch of the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and a sub-postmaster at Rockland St Mary for 14 years, said: 'I think the general feeling is that if the mutualisation plans do go ahead, it is a good thing.

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'The problem is when it is going to happen, which may be too late for some members.'

He also stressed for post offices to survive now and in the future, the government needed to make sure it passed state business to the network,

In March, the government announced it was removing the contract for processing benefit cheques from the Post Office and giving it to Paypoint. The contract had been with the Post Office since its creation as a nationalised industry 43 years ago and is worth about �20m annually.

Mr Smith said: 'If the government keeps taking business away, which government agencies are still doing, it will not help the post offices.'

Andrew Worsdale lost his Sheringham sub-post office in country-wide government cuts of three years ago, but found himself back behind the counter last summer after taking on the job of postmaster at Holt.

He says part of the attraction of the Cromer Road business was the attached sorting office, but Royal Mail plans to close that office along with sorting offices at Aylsham and Wells, early next year.

Post Office Ltd was separated from the postal service Royal Mail in 1986. It is now a subsidiary of Royal Mail Group Ltd, the parent company of Royal Mail.

Mr Worsdale said he was worried about the length of time it would take for the proposals to come to fruition.

He added: 'It will taken an enormous amount of work to bring this about and make it work.

'We should have more say on how the post office is run; we are the investors in the businesses.'

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