28 March 2008
Local government leaders have welcomed a ministerial decision to explore the possibility of councils taking over post offices due for closure.
Business Secretary John Hutton wrote to Alan Cook, the managing director of the Post Office, asking him to talk to local authorities about the idea. Up to 50 councils are believed to be interested after Essex County Council put forward a bid to run offices in the county earlier this month.
Local Government Association chair Sir Simon Milton said: 'It is a huge step in the right direction that the minister has made to instruct Post Office Ltd to enter into discussions with councils who have put forward proposals to save some of their local branches.
'For many people, the post office is the lifeblood of the high street, and the role post offices play in helping people who conduct their financial affairs in cash is vital.
'Councils have long battled against the closure of post offices, working with local residents to find new, fresh and innovative ways to make sure that post office counter services are not lost to people who live in rural or disadvantaged areas.'
The government announced at the end of 2006 that 2,500 of the country's 14,000 post offices were likely to close by the end of this year because of rising losses caused by fewer people using the network.
During a March 19 Commons debate on a Conservative motion to suspend the closures, Hutton said he wanted the Post Office to give 'serious consideration' to the Essex proposal. The closures, he said, were essential for economic reasons.
'Postponing difficult decisions is rarely a sensible course of action to take,' he said.
Essex County Council, which is negotiating a buy-out price from the Post Office, says 15 of 31 local branches that have closed or are due to close could be saved. The authority says it could make a profit by combining postal services with council services.
Leader Lord Hanningfield said: 'If the public want post offices then it's up to us. It's our job to provide them. I've been in local government a while and this has been the most popular thing I've ever been involved with.'