Final collection for the village post office

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The decline of the village post office has become so rapid that they could disappear within a decade, a report said yesterday.

Competition from nearby towns and lack of community support is driving them out of business at a rate of 200 offices a year and the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters yesterday warned that, unless urgent action is taken, their contribution to village life could be lost forever.

The federation's general secretary, Colin Baker, said: "The village sub- post office and shop is an important feature of rural life, but the economics of running such a business remain very difficult. Depopulation of rural areas, people travelling to work, changing shopping habits and the encroachment of superstores has caused us growing concern about the future of the entire rural network."

The costs of running a village post office had risen while pay was as low as pounds 10,000 a year, according to the federation, which represents most of Britain's 18,000 sub-post offices.

In a report released yesterday, the federation called for the Government to "breathe life" back into rural communities by offering enterprise grants, incorporating other businesses such as libraries and tourist boards into the village post office shop, and giving the national postal system greater commercial freedom.

Post Office Counters, the organisation that governs every post office in the country, admitted there was a problem but said it was taking steps, like the introduction of new automated services, to tackle it. A spokesman said: "Post Office Counters remains committed to all its post offices and, even though the shape of communities and shopping habits are changing, we are evolving our network to continue serving people.

"While banks and building societies are becoming less accessible to rural dwellers, post offices are still there. Virtually the only reason any post office closes is because we cannot find anyone to take over the running of it when an existing sub-postmaster leaves. Our message to the community is a clear one - use your post office or lose it."

The post office which has served the Gloucestershire village of Thrupp for more than 50 years yesterday became the latest casualty of the decline. Sub-postmaster Reg Barton said: "We are closing because our customers have chosen to take their business to supermarkets which have opened up near by in the last few years."