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Post office role predicted

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Providing Post Office services could become an integral part of councils’ work, Essex CC leader Lord Hanningfield (Con) has forecasted.

He said Essex was close to saving many threatened branches under a deal where postmasters would also have contracts to deliver council services. Some could receive subsidies.

“I think post offices will become a fundamental part of local government services, rather like libraries and community centres,” Lord Hanningfield told LGC.

“Once you get rid of their share of the Post Office’s national overhead they do not lose much money, and they have the potential to be council one-stop shops.”

He was due to outline his thoughts to the Local Government Association yesterday.

Lord Hanningfield’s comments came after Post Office minister Pat McFadden told the National Federation of SubPostmasters’ conference the government would support, in principle, councils funding post offices threatened with closure.

The LGA conference was due to look at potential business models to save postal services and other local shops.

Swale BC leader Andrew Bowles (Con), chair of the LGA Rural Commission, said: “Council-run post offices are a realistic option. It would help isolated communities, but it’s more than that. For example, we are supposed to reduce the need to travel, and the increasing numbers of homeworkers need post offices without having to drive into a town.”

Andrew Jones, economic development researcher at the Local Government Information Unit, said: “Social enterprises provide a model for hybrid public/private businesses and it’s something local government should be involved in, possibly even at parish council level.”

Hampshire CC has assembled a£500,000 fund from the South East England Development Agency, East Hampshire DC and Test Valley BC to help maintain village shops that have lost postal services, and support new community-run shops.

But it said competition law made it difficult to offer similar help in urban areas, since subsidies could be deemed unfair to nearby rival shops.

A report by leader Ken Thornber (Con) said Hampshire would try to “develop a separate policy for closures in urban areas, but the difficulties should not be underestimated”.

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