Post Offices to be saved

Norfolk postmasters welcome news that there will be no more closures

Postmasters have welcomed the government's announcement that the Post Office network was not for sale and there would be no more branch closures.

The government also unveiled �1.3 billion of funding over the next four years to maintain and modernise the Post Office network.

Whilst acknowledging that fewer customers were using the network of 11,500 Post Office branches, the government said the money would enable it to improve customer services – extending opening hours and reducing queues – and help it win the new revenue streams and new business it needs.

The news comes three years after the then Labour government announced a nationwide cull of post offices with more than 50 branches in Norfolk and Suffolk earmarked for closure.

The EDP's sister paper, the Evening News, launched a 'Save our Post Offices' campaign and more than 15,000 people signed a petition calling for Post Office bosses to think again.

One of the branches saved was Vauxhall Street in Norwich, whose sub-postmaster Malcolm Wright welcomed the news.

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He said: 'If it gives us more business I'm all in favour if it. The fundamental problem, both in the city and in the county, is the lack of footfall.

'If we don't get that back, while there may not be any compulsory closures, there will be closures just the same, because businesses won't survive.'

Alison Cooper, postmistress at New Costessey Post Office, whose post office was also earmarked for closure three years ago, but survived, also welcomed it.

She said: 'I have not had time to find out exactly what it means but it's good news'.

The announcement was made during the first debate in the House of Commons of the Government's Postal Services Bill on Wednesday<27>.

In time the Post Office network could be converted into a mutual structure as part of plans to hand its ownership and running to employees, sub postmasters and local communities.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: 'The Post Office network is a cornerstone of British life. Our �1.3 billion funding package will reverse the years of decline and secure its long term future.'

Dave Smith, Executive Director, Post Office Ltd, said the agreement with the government would allow it to modernise the Post Office.

However, whilst welcoming the news, Mike O'Connor, chief executive of watchdog, Consumer Focus, said the Post Office's long-term future could only be secured if they provided the services consumers needed at a high standard in places people could access.

He said: 'At the moment, we love our post offices more than we use them.

'If the Post Office cannot build on its strong and trusted brand, and the range of services it offers, it could be in trouble.

'A viable business plan is needed to help post offices move off life support and back to good health.

'Otherwise we may be looking at a slow decay with the long-term future of thousands of post offices as we know them at risk.'