Britain’s 3,000 most isolated post offices will continue to receive subsidies so they can provide ‘vital’ services to their communities, a minister pledged yesterday.
Post office minister Kelly Tolhurst told MPs that the Government will provide extra funding if it is needed to keep the branches open.
These post offices, which are all the last shops in their villages, are being kept afloat by a £50million handout from the Government.
Post office minister Kelly Tolhurst told MPs that the Government will provide extra funding if it is needed to keep the branches open
Miss Tolhurst’s (right with David Cameron and Nusrat Ghani) pledge is a victory for the Daily Mail, which has demanded that the Government extend the subsidy as part of a campaign to save the post office network
But until yesterday, ministers had refused to say whether this will be renewed after April 2021.
Miss Tolhurst’s pledge is a victory for the Daily Mail, which has demanded that the Government extend the subsidy as part of a campaign to save the post office network.
Speaking to the Commons business committee, Miss Tolhurst said: ‘I can’t see a time when we [the Government] are not there to guarantee those rural and community services that are vital and not financially viable.
Britain’s 11,500 post offices face mounting financial pressures that, it is claimed, have already forced up to 1,000 out of business
‘If a subsidy is needed, we will lobby for one.’
Postmasters told MPs at a previous hearing that the network was ‘looking over the precipice’ and accused the Government of ‘burying its head in the sand’.
More than 1,000 post offices are shuttered, and in April 2,500 sub-postmasters warned that they could close or downsize over the next 12 months.
The subsidised branches, known as ‘community post offices’, are not financially viable because they have so few customers. But the Government props them up because they are the last shop in their local area. These branches are already under enormous strain. Hundreds have been replaced by ‘pop-up’ post offices that open for only a few hours a week in churches, pubs or village halls.
In practice, Miss Tolhurst is pledging to lobby the Treasury for the funds in the Spending Review later this year if the Post Office is unable to pay for the branches by itself.
But postmasters last night said they were ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the future of the crucial subsidy. Peter Hall, head of policy at the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, said: ‘That’s obviously a positive message from the minister and we’re cautiously optimistic that the Government will continue to support the network.
‘We believe that the Government subsidy must carry on to support community offices.’
Andy Furey, of the Communications Workers’ Union, added: ‘I see the minister’s words as a positive, but I would personally want to pin her commitment down. She needs to be the champion of postmasters in Government, and that means getting the Treasury onside.
‘Every day we’re picking up on postmasters who are calling it a day. It’s gut-wrenching.
These post offices, which are all the last shops in their villages, are being kept afloat by a £50million handout from the Government. Pictured: Nidhi Prashar has been at the frontline of post office services for more than two decades. She opened her second branch in Epsom, Surrey, with her husband 18 months ago but says she is under financial pressure
‘These are people who want to provide a community service but they can’t make ends meet.’
It is the second victory since the Mail launched its campaign last month. Two weeks ago Miss Tolhurst began a review of pay and pledged to ‘ensure postmasters receive a fair wage’. It will be completed at the end of July.
At yesterday’s hearing of the Commons’ business, energy and industrial strategy committee, frustrated MPs criticised the Government’s failure to intervene on key issues, including postmaster pay and branch closures.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves, the committee’s chairman, had to intervene on two occasions during an exchange about the Post Office closing branches after ‘sham’ consultations.
In a separate exchange about postmaster pay, Miss Tolhurst refused four times to answer whether postmasters were struggling.