The closure of a post office is never good news as it adversely affects the customers that use that particular office. Closures have an impact on the local economy and inconvenience those, for example, who work from home, are elderly people or do not have access to convenient transport. Once closed, post offices rarely reopen and research shows customers miss them.
It would therefore be perfectly understandable if Postwatch, the watchdog for postal services, decided to oppose any closure of a post office anywhere in the UK. Indeed, this is the position many customers would expect Postwatch to adopt.
But, rather than take the easy route, Postwatch has concluded that change is necessary and customer interests in general would be much better served if it supports the need to ‘prune’ the Post Office network. This should give the remaining offices a reasonable chance of surviving.
Postwatch has generally welcomed the government’s proposals and the associated commitment to provide £150 million a year until at least 2011. Postwatch also accepted that it is access to post office services and not post office buildings that is important. Research shows that ‘outreach’ services which replace post offices are well received by customers. Postwatch will support the deployment of an outreach service wherever this is considered a sensible replacement to a closed post office.
Postwatch does not agree with every aspect of the government’s proposals and wants, for example, the finally agreed programme to include 12-weeks consultation, instead of six, on every proposed closure. Postwatch sees no advantage in rushing the closures through and much to be gained from proceeding at a pace that allows communities to understand the proposals and what is happening, and to participate constructively in achieving the best outcome.
Postwatch wants to work closely with Post Office Limited to help plan how optimum access to the network of post offices and outreach services can be achieved. It will, however, reserve the right to suggest amendments if, and when local users, MPs or others can point out flaws or improvements to individual proposals during local consultations.