The government today signalled that the closure of 2,500 post offices will go ahead, and was immediately condemned for dealing a ‘devastating blow’ to the lives of millions of pensioners.
Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling will tell MPs later that proposals outlined last year to reduce the size of the network to about 12,000 will go ahead.
Speaking ahead of the announcement the minister made it clear in a radio interview that the plans will not be changed, following a consultation which drew thousands of responses, including many from people opposed to post office closures.
Mr Darling told BBC radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I believe if we reduce the network by about 2,500 branches, backed by £1.5 billion investment from government, we can have a sustainable network.’
Mr Darling said if post offices were run purely on commercial grounds there would only be about 4,000 left, which ‘would make no sense at all’.
Mr Darling said there were four million fewer people using post offices than two years ago, while losses had doubled to £4 million a week.
‘The present situation is unsustainable. We have got to do something. If we can reduce the network, giving people reasonable access to get to a post office, we can help them win new business.
‘Very few people would argue that staying where we are now is a sustainable position.’
The Minister said that the Royal Mail would have to make changes in order to win new business in the future.
But the National Pensioners Convention condemned the closure decision.
Vice President Dot Gibson said: ‘For millions of older people living in both urban and rural areas the post office provided a lifeline not only to services but also to community life and information.
‘The government claims the network is unsustainable but at least £260 million has been lost because ministers decided, against the wishes of many older people, to pay pensions directly into bank accounts.’
The group said many pensioners will now have to rely on other people to take them to a post office, which was a ‘disgrace’.
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