Post office network close to collapse, MPs warned

Peter Stubley

The Post Office network is close to collapse with thousands of branches at risk of closure over the next 12 months, MPs have been warned.

More than a fifth of sub-postmasters plan on resigning or downsizing because of increasing financial pressures, according to a recent survey.

The resulting loss of services, particularly in rural areas, would have ”catastrophic” implications for local communities, say the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP).

It comes as the UK government prepares to end its subsidy of the Post Office network in 2021.

The NFSP is now calling for the subsidy to be guaranteed beyond that date and “rural proofed” to protect village branches.

It also wants to allow post offices to handle a wider range of government services as well as offer more banking services to customers.

“The viability of sub post offices and the morale of sub-postmasters has been eroded to the extent that the network’s resilience is extremely limited,” the NFSP said in its submission to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.

“We believe a tipping point has been passed and the consequences of this are now being realised.

“Subpostmasters are resigning in high numbers because it is increasingly difficult to make a decent living.

“The closure of 2,500 post offices in a year would be a catastrophic loss to communities across the UK”.

Revenue received by the Post Office network from providing government services has fallen from £576m in 2005 to £99m in 2018.

Meanwhile Royal Mail, whose agreement with the Post Office ends in January 2022, is encouraging customers to use its services directly rather than through the post office network.

The Department for Work and Pensions are also encouraging users of the Post Office card account to switch to using a bank account, says the NFSP.

At the same time sub-postmasters are becoming increasingly responsible for meeting public demand for banking services as banks shut down their high street branches and move online.

The NFSP says its 8,000 members feel ‘disenfranchised’, ‘marginalised’ and ‘relegated to the bottom of the food chain’ by the Post Office, the government and Royal Mail.

Around 1,000 branches are currently listed as closed, with two-thirds of closures being caused by the resignation of the sub-postmaster.

A further 2,500 are at risk of closure over the next months, given that 22 per cent of sub-postmasters say they are planning to close or downsize their office in the next 12 months.