Thursday, 12 June 2008

Save our post offices - Save our communities?

The last stage of the Post Office's 'rationalisation programme' comes to the Borough next month. They'll be carrying out a six-week consultation from 3rd July (right over the holiday period) on which village post offices should stay open. Their criteria will be based entirely on a limited 'business case' model - looking purely at the cost-effectiveness of the narrow post office services being delivered.
This was the main topic at the Borough Parishes Meeting on Weds (11th June) - with the Borough Council looking to support parishes in making their cases on the PO criteria, and avoiding a 'divide and conquer' which would see parishes competing with each other to retain their own post office.
Unfortunately - there wasn't anyone from the Post Office there - but David Stewart from NE Rural Affairs Forum argued strongly that post offices were often the centre of a whole range of wider community activities, which will be (and are) lost when they close. He also outlined a range of 'Plan B' options for running post offices in village halls, churches, pubs or running mobile post offices in conjunction with other services (eg health, libraries, IT centres, council one-stop-shops). You don't necessarily have to use the term 'community hub' if you don't want too.
As he said - the Post Office is run with a subsidy which Government is withdrawing - that subsidy could be taken up by other (or groups of other) more local organiasations eg in Essex where the County Council is picking up the tab.
So - outcome from the meeting (as far as I'm concerned) was that we need parish councils and villages to identify what services are broadly linked to or depend on the post office and will be vulnerable if the post office closes (or disappeared when the post office did close). This is then evidence - both for the narrow-focussed Post Office consultation and for the unitary authority, care trust, police, parish councils, belonging communities and anyone else looking to provide services to rural communities. A bit of co-ordination and co-operation could do wonders.
Incidentally - not quite the same problem with Morpeth Main Post Office, but it is very vulnerable too. The Co-Op franchise runs out in October. I gather there are two or three potential new franchisees, but there is apparently no obvious site (50 m2) in central Morpeth. Any suggestions?

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