Post Office Closures Consultation (Agenda item 10)
Report of the Executive Member for Economic and Commercial.
The Economic Development Officer presented the report which informed Members of the background to this matter, together with the actions and results of the survey undertaken since September 2007 following the Overview and Scrutiny Commission’s initial review of the post office closure programme.
The survey, conducted at the end of 2007, had consisted of nine questions. Out of 159 issued surveys 40 had been returned. An analysis of the results had been attached to the report at Appendix 3. Members were informed of a meeting with Post Office Ltd (POL) on 18 January 2008, which had been attended by the Chief Executive and Mr P Claussen, the Executive Member for Commercial Services.
Members were informed that POL’s proposals would be published by 26 March 2008.
It was noted that following the Overview and Scrutiny Commission meeting held on 24 January 2008, it had been agreed that a small Working Group of Members be appointed to assist Officers in this task to ensure as full and detailed information as possible was available.
The first meeting of the Group was being held in the afternoon following today’s full Council meeting.
The Overview and Scrutiny Chairman felt that the statistics for the survey that the Economic Development Officer had mentioned earlier were worrying but, like other surveys carried out by the Council, it was consistent and reflected the general feeling of the District.
The Executive Member for Commercial Services advised that the list of potential closures had already been determined and amounted to between 18% and 22% of Post Offices in the District. The consultation period was, in reality, about having the opportunity only to make the case for exceptions to that list. He recognised that the Government had to modernise and reshape the Post Office network but did not understand why at this time and at what cost to the more rural areas of the District. He highlighted the effect this matter would have on the Local Development Framework (LDF) which in itself was currently trying to bring together all the strands of development in the community.
Mr Goreham, the Opposition Leader agreed with the above points and felt that it was the duty of this Council to fight against closure where possible and mitigate against the loss of a service when necessary.
1) Now that the research had been undertaken and there was evidence to present to POL and Postwatch the Council was now open to submit a response during the pre-consultation stage. Therefore this option was to conclude this project by writing a statement to POL and Postwatch on behalf of the residents of Breckland outlining how it was against post office closures and include the evidence gathered. If members wanted to take this option they were asked what ‘strength of feeling’ the letter should take? For example, was the Council against all closures or would the Council specifically want to save the post offices in the LDF service centre villages? If this option was taken it would also suggest that the results of the survey were published on the Council’s website. It was also suggested that delegated authority be provided to the Executive Member for Commercial Services or the Leader to agree and sign the letter.
2) The Council could publish the results on the Council’s website, but not lobby POL/Postwatch and not take any further action.
The reasons for the recommendations were as follows:
1) Clearly the closure of any post office would be a loss to that community, and this would be felt even harder in rural communities as the survey results suggest. Although there would be an economic impact, the loss of jobs would not be as great as the loss of a community service. In rural areas, such as Breckland the post office income usually supplements a retail income such as a grocery or newsagent. It was possible that without the post office the remaining business was not viable and could close. The knock on impact of the loss of not just a post office but also the local shop could be severe in rural areas.
In its community leadership role Breckland Council had undertaken activities and publicised these activities to support lobbying efforts to keep post offices open. It was unclear as to the impact or success any lobbying campaign would have but this should not detract from the Council’s endeavours to secure successful outcomes for our communities. As more information from the consultation became available Members would be made further aware for their consideration.
2) By taking this option the Council had still fulfilled a non-statutory obligation to become involved in the consultation of the Post Office Network Change programme, but would not commit to a formal lobbying effort in writing. Electors would still be aware of the Council’s activities as the information and results from the survey would be published on the Council’s website.
The decisions of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission on compiling representations and inviting POL to its next meeting were noted.
RECOMMEND that the Council be asked to pass the following motion:
This Authority formally invites the Post Office to work with the Council to provide services to residents in the most viable way in the future.
This Council notes the invaluable service provided by our Local Post Offices to the local community which relies heavily on their post office branches.
This Council deplores the Government’s current programme of 2,500 closures across the country.
This Council notes the strength of public opinion in favour of saving local post offices.
This Council recognises the needs of the elderly, disabled and the most disadvantaged who rely on local post offices the most.