'Rural proof' post offices plea

PUBLISHED: 13:36 10 June 2008 | UPDATED: 21:54 15 June 2010

THE future viability of the post office network depends on a programme of branch closures.

THE future viability of the post office network depends on a programme of branch closures.That is what the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, Pat McFadden MP, told the House of Commons when East Devon MP Hugo Swire last week secured a debate on the subject.Mr Swire has been a staunch supporter of Offwell Post Office ever since he officially opened the branch four years ago.Making his address in Westminster Hall last Tuesday, he said Offwell Post Office is "a perfect example of community cohesion".He wants the service 'rural-proofed' and says communities, fighting to save their post offices, are being pitted against each other at a time when the Prime Minister's rural advocate, Stuart Burgess, has warned that poorer people in the countryside "form a forgotten city of disadvantage".Mr Swire told Mr McFadden: "Four years ago, Post Office Limited helped the village with guidance and grants. "Presumably, it was thought a viable business venture at the time, yet after four years of successful trading the company now considers it suitable for closure. Why?"From the outset, the need for good, free parking and disabled access to the shop was recognised, which has proved very popular, and the large farming community that uses the service can actually park tractors on the doorstep."Mr Swire said the closure threat could spell "a tragic end for a venture that was supported by the post office authorities from the outset".He added: "That post office is an example of rural community life at its best and has been maintained through volunteers and fundraising. "It has become a pivotal part of the village."Mr Swire is concerned Post Office Limited has singled Offwell Post Office out for closure because it is 2.9 miles from Honiton, while neglecting to take into account that the branch serves Northleigh, Southleigh and Farway, among other parishes, which are more than three miles from Honiton.He is concerned about the possible impact on elderly and disabled service users, concerns highlighted by villagers in this newspaper.Mr McFadden said the post office network loses £500,000 every day. The figure was not static, with the network losing four million customers a week - a figure, he claimed, is rising."I do not accept for a moment the charge that the government have somehow created an evil use of the internet or pioneered direct debit," Mr McFadden said."I am sure that even in East Devon people use the internet to pay bills and carry out transactions. "They are not being forced to do so by the government."Mr McFadden revealed some transactions in rural post offices are costing taxpayers £17-a-time in subsidies. He said that by 2011 the government would have pumped more than £3.5 million into the post office network since coming to power.

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