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.