2,500 post offices face axe

17-05-2007

2,500 post offices face axe
Around 2,500 post offices across the country are set to face closure, the government is expected to confirm today.

Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling will announce the cutbacks following a consultation on plans which he claims are essential to preserve the overall post office network and place it on a more stable financial footing.

Government figures show that Britain's postal network is currently losing £4 million a week despite receiving an annual public subsidy of around £150 million.

Opposition parties have accused ministers of being partially responsible for the losses, with services such as the payment of benefits being withdrawn from post offices and paid directly into people's bank accounts instead.

Announcing the consultation to restructure post office services last December, Mr Darling stated that the size of the network needed to be reduced in order to address the losses and reflect the dwindling number of people regularly using it.

The trade and industry secretary is today expected to confirm that some closures will be made, with the Post Office Ltd to consult with local communities over which individual branches will be scrapped.

In a bid to quell anger over the announcement, Mr Darling is set to reaffirm previously announced government plans to provide up to £1.7 billion over five years to support the modernisation of the network.

Addressing the Commons, he is also likely to announce the establishment of up to 500 post office outlets in small remote communities. Proposals to establish mobile post office branches could see postal services made available in village halls, community centres and pubs.

Reacting to criticism that rural residents will suffer the most under planned closures, the government will likewise pledge that 95 per cent of people in such areas have access to a post office within three miles of their home.

However the planned closures have been criticised by campaign groups and opposition parties.

Help the Aged said that the government needed a "dynamic vision" for the post office network and warned that older people were particularly likely to suffer as a result of branch closures.

"Many will not have access to a car and to the internet and a clumsy process of post office closures will make the prospect of isolation for these people much greater," warned the charity's head of public affairs Mervyn Kohler.

Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesperson Susan Kramer said the government was "sounding the death knell" for many communities and stressed that rural communities, the elderly and those in deprived inner city areas would be the most affected by post office closures.

Shadow trade and industry secretary Alan Duncan told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Darling's record at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had been one of failure "not least for all those who will suffer under this latest raft of Post Office closures".



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