Postmasters call for safeguard of rural offices

Postmasters are calling for urgent action by the government in order to safeguard rural post offices.

The National Federation of Subpostmasters held a rally in London on Wednesday, while a petition of four million names was handed into 10 Downing Street.

The NFSP general secretary Colin Baker warned that this was now "crunch time" for post offices. He said: "The 28 million customers who use the Post Office every week are confused as to what the government wants of the network and of the people who run it. We believe that the time is now overdue for ministers to decide."

According to postal services watchdog, Postwatch, the number of post offices has dropped from 18,393 in 1999 to 14,376 in 2005.

The NFSP warned that the future of the service was being affected by the loss of vital income generating post office services.

These include the planned withdrawal of the Post Office Card Account, which is used by millions of people to access pensions and benefits.

The campaign is supported by hundreds of MPs.

Almost 400 MPs have signed an early day motion, tabled by Kate Hoey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for sub-post offices, calling for the government to reverse the decision to withdraw the Post Office card account.

Ms Hoey said: "The government must listen to the concerns raised by supporters of the post office network and take swift action to prevent its further deterioration. There is universal support for viable and sustainable post offices. Removing services and forcing people to go elsewhere flies in the face of previous commitments from government and will destroy the network."

During Prime Minister's Question Time, Conservative leader David Cameron urged Tony Blair to consider new ways of maintaining the services of the Post Office, including a plan for more local council work to be channeled through the Post Office network.

Speaking at Wednesday's rally, Mr Cameron explained that council services could be provided through 'Council Counters' in Post Offices. He said: "Council counters would improve engagement with local residents, ensure that vulnerable people had access to vital services and help to secure the long-term future of the Post Office network."

However, although Mr Blair said that the government would consider all the options, he warned that more people were using bank accounts, rather than Post Office accounts, and said that there was a "process of change" that any government would have to deal with.


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