Saturday, 09 December 2006

The local post office: a brand in jeopardy Among the forces affecting post offices, there seem to have been some specific policy decisions. The other day the government indirectly invited me to renew my TV licence, pointing out that I could no longer do so at my local post office, but instead at a handful of local commercial outlets. OK, I did it online, eschewing a walk up to the village, some fresh air, making any contribution to my local economy, or any chance of serendipitous encounters with neighbours. I was speaking to an old lady about the proposed closures and she said candidly that for her, the problem is she gets confused about things - bills, payment methods, dates due and so on. There's no substitute for having one place where you can go, see someone regularly who knows you as a local person, and is able to offer explanation and advice on a basis of trust. From the point of view of this lady, hardly unique, the proposed closures are quite scary. As far as my mother was concerned, the two guys at her local PO contributed significantly to her quality of life in her last few years and were part of the loose infrastructure that enabled her to stay relatively indpendent. They 'looked after' her in the sense that they gave her recognition, confidence at the counter, and took an interest in her welfare. This can be and is done sometimes by commercial outlets, but not with the kind of consistency we need. Age Concern research shows that 99% of older people in rural areas consider their local post office a ‘lifeline’. The local post office is a brand in jeopardy, illustrating how public value is in jeopardy. Its further weakening would leave the remainder of our local informal infrastructure (pubs, libraries, parks and so on) under even greater pressure, perhaps too much.

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