Future of Rural Postal Services

Rural Community Network held a very successful event on 11 March to discuss the contributions of rural post offices to local communities and possibilities for future rural postal services.

The event was attended by sub-postmasters and members of Rural Community Network and the Rural Support Networks.

The timing of the event was to create the space for discussion prior to the announcement on 1 April by Post Office Ltd with regard to post office closures in Northern Ireland and proposals for the development of a number of outreach services.

This will be followed by a six week consultation period.

Due to both the withdrawal of government business such as benefit payments and changing customer habits, Post Office Ltd has been making significant losses through its post office network.

For example, during 2006-2007, Post Office Ltd made losses of 4 million every week across the UK. In Northern Ireland, one in every five rural branches has fewer than 100 customer visits a week. As a result of these losses, Post Office Ltd has been implementing a change programme across the UK with the goal of closing 2500 post-offices across the UK and introducing 500 new outreach services. The government has provided 1.7 billion until 2011 to fund this change programme. On 1 April, it is Northern Ireland's turn to hear about the changes proposed.

Karin Eyben, Policy Officer with Rural Community Network stated 'Those who attended the event were clear about the formal and informal contributions of rural post offices to local communities.' Karin continued 'There are a whole set of community services provided by rural post offices in addition to the official 180 services such as providing a point of community contact and information.'

Michael Hughes, Chief Executive Officer with Rural Community Network added 'Rural post offices provide a vital service for sections of the community, particularly for older people, those with poor literacy and numeracy skills, lone parents, those on benefits and newcomers such as the migrant population.' He continued 'The changes proposed will particularly impact on those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged and it is vital that their voices are heard during the consultation period.'

Whilst those present at the RCN event acknowledged that changes are needed, there was a clear recognition that the future of rural postal services needs to be planned and thought through by those who run rural post offices and by local communities. Rural Community Network will explore how best this planning can be rolled out in those areas that will be impacted upon by the closures to ensure that what is put in place offers a meaningful alternative to those current Post Office services.

RCN will be holding a meeting in Cookstown on 8 April at 10.30am. Both Post Office Ltd and Post Watch will attend and brief participants on announcements made on 1 April followed by a question and answer session.

Please contact Karin or Mark at Rural Community Network on 028 8676 6670 for further information or if you would like to attend, alternatively email info@ruralcommunitynetwork.org