How to save the Post Office

THERE’S an book of first class stamps in my wallet. I think there are maybe two or three stamps left. I bought them in a newsagent while I was in buying a newspaper.

Last month my teenage son applied online for his provisional driving licence. Also last month I renewed my car tax – again, online.

Having sold a number of items on eBay recently, I had to wrap and post them. I weighed them myself, then used the Royal Mail’s website to calculate the postage. Not only that, but using the same site and a credit card, I was able to print out my own pre-paid posting labels.

A few years ago, all of the above activities would have had to be carried out within the confines of the local Post Office. Like so many other businesses, the Post Office has suffered from the rise of the Internet. So much of its traditional core business is now carried out instead in customers’ homes.

So today’s announcement by the Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, will be a huge relief to those of us who fear for the very existence of the Post Office network in the years ahead.

But who is really responsible for the shrinking of that network? The government, which has ploughed hundreds of millions of pounds to keep loss-making businesses afloat?

So long as former Post Office customers opt for the convenience of the internet instead of queuing at their local branch, then the decline in customer numbers is virtually unstoppable. That’s not anyone’s fault: it’s a logical consequence of a free market where customers are given the choice of where to carry out their business.

Now, I’m the first to admit, the Post Office has hardly covered itself in glory as far as the closure programme is concerned. I’ve accepted the case for closing some branches in my own constituency, while bitterly opposing the closure of others.

But those who oppose all closures would do well to look in their own wallets and purses to check whether there’s a book of stamps in there. If there is, or if there has been at any point in the past, then they should accept that they are also part of the shift in customer footfall away from the Post Office.

How to save the Post Office network? Easy – close the internet. But you know something? I really don’t see that happening.

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18 Comments

Filed under Economy, Government, Society

18 responses to “How to save the Post Office

  1. burma toad

    You weren’t flogging a few no-longer-needed red boxes, were you Tom?

  2. Graham

    Up to a point.

    The lengthy queues in so many Post Offices are a major disincentive to using a Post Office for anything that can be done elsewhere.

  3. wrinkled weasel

    Tom: “Easy – close the internet. But you know something? I really don’t see that happening.”

    Don’t worry, you’ll get around to it, probably citing “the fight against terrorism”.

  4. You know, that’s an interesting idea. Must mention it to Jacqui…

  5. iain ker

    ‘a huge relief to those of us who fear for the very existence of the Post Office network in the years ahead’.

    Really.

    More like ‘a huge relief to those of us who fear for the very existence of our safe seats at the next election’, I would have thought.

    If we don’t need post offices, we don’t need post offices. There’s no point whatsoever in creating work for them so as to justify their existence.

    And all this ‘hub of the community’ nonsense. If you want a community hub – fund it yourself. Throwing public ie our money at it is a pointless exercise.

    I have been to the post office exactly once in the last decade – and that was to apply for a passport in a hurry. If I could have avoided the twenty minute queue at the hub, trust me I would have.

    Still, because, we the public (apparently) view post offices with such affection I suppose we can expect more electioneering/ money thrown in their general direction..

  6. Don’t worry – the LibDems have an answer! I’m assured by one of their activists that they’d turn it into a workers co-operative just like John Lewis. Apparently that would immediately end all its losses.

    He seemed unimpressed by my suggestion that it would, instead, immediately bankrupt the workers. Nor was he taken by my observation that John Lewis makes money by selling high value items from a tiny number of outlets whereas the Post Office sells tiny value items from a high number of outlets.

    The Tories are pretty sound on all this too. They’ve abandoned their faith in the market it seems and are all in favour of subsidies (stealth or real) in this case. All in favour that is until it comes to voting for them or even committing to maintaining them…

    Some friends of mine have a real answer. In their small town (which might be a big village) a co-operative has been set up to keep Post Office services available at least for a couple of days a week. It’s called active citizenry I think.

    But of course it’s much easier and cheaper for the usual suspects to moan that it’s all Labour’s fault…

  7. Johnny Norfolk

    To little to late as so many have closed in Norfolk. I am part of a volunteer team who collect the old folk where the post offices have closed and take them ( by petrol using cars) to their nearest. It is so sad that their independence has been removed from these old proud poor Norfolk folk.
    I feel for them I know that whilst they are grateful they have been kicked in the teeth by Labour with the post office closure programme.
    You just do not have any idea.

  8. This is a welcome announcement. I think the PO needs a careful programme of modernisation. I think Mandelson’s idea about giving it bank functions is a great idea and a fabulous start.

    The other thing is this. Perhaps we could look at the costs of running POs, particularly those who seem to invest in gigantic amounts of tat, which they never seem to sell. State investment in them should be ring-fenced for functions which the public actually want.

  9. Stu

    The trouble is that though change is inevitable, its moving far too fast. Though the internet is a wonderful tool it is still in its infancy, consider that I am only just the wrong side of 40, I didn`t receive any IT education at school, couple that with the fact that there vast numbers of people in their late forties and upwards who haven`t even used a computer let alone the internet, its these people and in particular pensioners who need to be considered when talking about the future of the Post Office. Why not use the mark up lost to Post Offices when car tax ect is purchased online and give it te Post Office to support the network, rather than the government pocketing it?

  10. Johnny Norfolk

    Privatise what is left, and pay a state subsidy to keep them open.
    Its only when the chips are down that Labour try and make us think they are listening, but there is nothing they will do about those that have closed. The damage to our rural communities plus the smoking ban in all pubs has had a devestating effect.
    I wish labour would think about others when they carry out their mission beliefs.
    You can see why the country wanted the king back after Cromwell.
    Its been like that under Labour.
    They have suppressed the English people and taken the fun out of life for so many.
    It makes Cromwell appear light hearted.
    You would not believe how they have devastated this country in only 11 years.

  11. Pendolino warrior

    This is a sad indictment of our spineless politicos. The non-competetive pushing of contracts to a state industry to prop it up. Just to win a few votes.

    Still worst of all is the craven hypocrisy of the Tories. At least labour is true to form.

    Post Offices are redundant except as parcel collection sites. Every other function can be done elsewhere.

    Johnny Norfolks pensioners can be set up to get cash back at any local store. Cash? Will be a memory by the time the card contract is renewed.

    Sorry, have the courage to close.

  12. iain ker

    Miller 2.0
    November 13, 2008 at 6:31 pm
    I think Mandelson’s idea about giving it bank functions is a great idea and a fabulous start.
    ———————————————————–

    Quite an awful start, actually. Psst the post office did used to have a bank (Girobank) but sold it – someone might pass on that bit of info to Peter. And I think we the public own quite enough banks already.

    Closing unviable post offices would be unpopular – but I thought this government was all about ‘taking the tough decisions for the long term’

    (I hadn’t thought that actually, I thought, and think, that this government is about whatever is likely to please the electorate in the short term)

  13. jay

    There was (is?) a report on the UKIP site about the role of the EU in post office closures.

    Am I right in thinking that the Government no longer pays DSS benefits to be cashed at a post office (I know that it’s cheaper for the Government to have them paid directly into a bank account). The Government, I believe, would like to persuade pensioners to have their state pensions to be paid likewise. I see taxpayer-funded ads promoting online payment of TV licences and literature likewise encouraging Road Tax payments.

    I think that most of us little realise how miserable life is for the elderly whose lifeline is a trip to the post office where they chat to others when they pick up their pensions – and, yes, there are old people in this position, I’ve met them to specifically talk about post offices!

  14. wrinkled weasel

    Jay, may I say, has lost the plot.
    Never mind pensioners being miserable; the government should not be in the business of providing social clubs for the elderly in such a profligate way. Why should I subsidize that? Have you been to a PO recently and spent 20 minutes in a queue? Even if you print your own stamp, you still have to give the parcel to a clerk. The post office can diversify. If it was competitive it would not have lost valuable Amazon contracts to competitors.
    Any time now you will be moaning about the spinning jenny.

  15. Johnny Norfolk

    Pendolino warrior

    You just have no idea.

    What local stores are you talking about. ?

    There are none. there is no bus or train service.

    These are old people who are just left in the lurch.

    We look after our own with no help at all from the government. You should look at rural counties away from London and find out just what is going on.
    I think some of the attitudes about our old people by some people on this blog is an absolute disgrace. I have never read such heartless comments. You have no humanity You need to go and look at some of our old people and see how difficult it is for them.
    I am realy upset by some of the comments and ashamed that we have such people in this country.

  16. iain ker

    …but Johnny Norfolk – is subsidising a network of 14,000 post offices really the most sensible way of helping the elderly?

    Somehow I doubt it.

  17. Paul Williams

    Re: Jay: You’re right, the EU is partly responsible for Post Office closures but don’t expect MPs or the mainstream media to tell you that.

    It’s due to the “Post Office Card Account 2 (Poca2)” contract which deals with benefits and pensions and expires in 2010. Under EU rules this has to be put out to tender and if the PO lost most of the network would close.

    Rather than use the UKIP site, a better one for the role of the EU in our life (which MPs don’t want you to know) is the EUreferendum blog. The information on there is staggering.

  18. Johnny Norfolk

    The ones in rural areas where there are no shops, pubs or public transport need to be kept open.

    Many of you just have no idea what life is like in rural areas for many old folk. If you did you would not make such comments.

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