Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

More Post Offices could be closed

There is no guarantee against more post office closures in Northern Ireland, an influential committee of MPs warned today.

A report by the Commons Business and Enterprise Committee has called for officials to commit to maintaining the network after the cuts programme is completed to end fears that more branches could be axed in future.

It also outlines how Post Office Ltd has admitted it does not believe " it is possible or desirable to set a minimum number of fixed outlets".

But MPs warn "there would be public outcry if changes to mail services resulted in further reduction of the network".

Committee chairman Tory MP Peter Luff said: "It is essential that the Government and Post Office Ltd are singing from the same hymn sheet to eradicate doubts that there will be further closures after 2011.

"The European Commission has authorised significant government funding for the network because it provides vital economic services, it is unsatisfactory that the ultimate decision on Post Office closures is left with the chairman of Post Office Ltd's parent company, Royal Mail Group, which may be directly affected by the network's profitability but is not well placed to consider its role in sustaining individual communities."

Almost 100 post offices in the Northern Ireland are set to be closed or downgraded in the coming years as part of UK-wide restructuring plans by the British company that runs the system.

Forty-two Post Office branches are set to close entirely and 54 will operate through what is described as an 'outreach' service.

Ministers say 2,500 UK branches must close in total because they have been losing £4m a week. In some areas fewer than 16 people a week used the 800 smallest rural post offices at a cost of £17 per visit to the taxpayer.

The Government has promised funding of "up to £1.7bn until 2011 to continue to support the network" and to enable the Post Office "to modernise and rationalise" and today's report calls for more clarity over how taxpayers' money being pumped in is used.

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