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NOT THE LAST POST - ENGLAND'S RURAL POST OFFICES DO HAVE A FUTURE

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As society changes, so must our rural post offices. They can be the new rural service hubs for villages, embracing ...
As society changes, so must our rural post offices. They can be the new rural service hubs for villages, embracing information technology and the skills of the people behind the counter. Now is the time to act on the government's latest report and quickly, according to the Countryside Agency, noting that rural post offices continue to close (nearly 400 last year) depriving people of a basic rural service.

Commenting on the government's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) report on the future of the Post Office, published this week (see LGCnet), Countryside Agency chief executive Richard Wakeford said: 'This report recognises the importance of rural post offices and contains helpful recommendations. It shows examples of how

post offices can provide local services people need. We are pleased that the government is committed to maintaining the rural post office network. But we can't see exactly how this will be guaranteed, in our view, measurable access criteria would have provided rural people with more reassurance.'

The Countryside Agency:

- looks for a new role for the rural post office, as a place where

people can access the internet, other banks' services and a range of

information and advice on public services

- welcomes the recommendation that government put aside the resources

necessary to maintain (through subsidy) the vital rural post office network

- but finds the report unclear about how post offices will be retained

where they are threatened with closure. We need to see measurable access criteria to provide additional assurance to those in remoter rural areas that they will not lose the service they depend on

The Countryside Agency stands ready to help government and the post office regulator implement these recommendations. We would be well placed to manage a subsidy scheme for rural post offices, help with monitoring access to post offices and help the Post Office pilot innovative approaches to rural post offices of the future.

'Rural people should be able to expect a certain level of service provision,' continued Mr Wakeford, 'rural post offices often provide far more than just postal services:

- they can give access to high street banking services

- most are joined with and help sustain a village shop

- as a local place to access money they encourage people to shop locally - supporting other shops and businesses

- they help overcome disadvantage by providing key local services for

those with no car or unable to travel far - they are a hub of village life, a source of information and a social centre.

- they will remain the place where those without a bank account can

access their pension and benefits.

'It is therefore vital for the health of rural communities that we halt the further loss of post offices. With modern technology the local post office can become a one stop shop for everything from accessing job and training opportunities to voting over the internet.

'The Countryside Agency will be publishing research in early July about the wider economic significance of rural post offices to the communities where they are located.'

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