Tuesday 9 November 2010

Post offices: three cheers, one thumbs down

Heavens, this coalition business is certainly tough on the blood pressure.  Never before has it been quite so stressful turning on the news or opening a newspaper.  It isn't even as if my over-reactions to almost everything were exactly simple. 

All of which is a way of providing a verdict on Ed Davey's announcement about the future of local post offices.  In short, three cheers and one major thumbs-down.

Cheer 1: the end of Labour's local post office closure programme is a major step forward.  The New Economics Foundation worked out tht a local post office was worth about £300,000 flowing through the local economy of a ward.  These things matter and it is a breakthrough that, thanks to Ed and his team, we have a government that recognises it.

Cheer 2: the admittedly distant prospect of mutual ownership of the network, by customers and staff.  That is bold, imaginative, Liberal and absolutely right.

Cheer 3: letting many more people access their bank accounts in post offices, as long as that means they can bank their takings.  This is another crucial element in local economic revival, though it is hard to see where the extra resources will come from this to sustain the network.

But there is a major thumbs-down.  The failure to grasp the opportunity and launch a proper post bank, like those in Germany, Italy and New Zealand, not only flies in the face of our manifesto commitment - it is also profoundly wrong.  Why should our competitor nations have a local banking infrastructure when we have a small oligopoly of mega-banks whose attention is elsewhere?  We have the local post office infrastructure - it badly needs a major project to sustain it financially, yet the government have backed off the postbank idea.

I'm extremely sorry about that, and I hope we can revive the idea in the next Liberal Democrat manifesto - and preferably some time before.  Especially since I am far from clear whether the annoucement is enough to sustain the network as it stands.  Just ending the closure programme isn;t enough; we have to find ways of making it pay for those who run it locally.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In evidence to the HoC select committee on the Postal Services Bill it was stated by the person representing Post Office Ltd that there were currently 11,900 post offices but that 8,000 were currently not viable.

The failure to create a Post Office Bank will lead to thousands more outlets closing and there is nothing going to stop this in the current coalition plans.