Govt post office consultations ‘just window dressing’

By Doireann Ronayne

Government attempts to consult on post office closures are seen as “window dressing” by the public, according to a damning new report by an influential committee of MPs.

In a damning indictment of the government’s treatment of the post office network, the committee of public accounts found the financial benefits of closures did not compensate for the social upheaval they triggered.

“Compulsory closures of post offices should in future be a last resort, not a first”, Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said.

“The closure of the local post office can be a real blow to the community.

“The consultation process appeared to the public as little more than a piece of window dressing for a decision which to all intents and purposes had already been taken.”

In the early consultation stages, as few as 18 per cent of people had been aware that a consultation was going on in their local area, and many considered the six week period too short.

Furthermore, while the report revealed that even when Post Office Ltd did consider whether the local post office was necessary to the survival of the local shop, this was not always enough to prevent the closure.

The government failed to take into consideration the social value of the post office, the committee concluded.

“The inadequate assessment by the department of the social and economic costs of its programme to close some 2,500 post offices showed a real lack of concern for the citizens affected”, Mr Leigh said.

This, coupled with the lack of consultation angered many communities who feel the consultation process was a sham.

With 10,000 fewer post office outlets than in 1965, the report made it clear the government needs to set out its expectations concerning the size and spread of the network.

Inadequate monitoring of the impact of post office closures and national quality standards also undermined the approach, MPs found.