Public win right to appeal against Post Office cuts

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MEMBERS OF the public will be given the right to appeal against the proposed closure of a post office under measures to be announced by the Government today.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is to create the appeal system in the Post Office Bill early next year to try to calm fears of closures.

Under the proposals any customer worried about relocation or closure of a sub-post office can appeal to the Post Office Users National Council and a new post office regulator.

After work by the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit, "access criteria" will also be published to give benchmarks against which closures can be measured. The Post Office will announce a revised code of practice next month governing how it should deal with proposed conversions and closures.

This will be backed up for the first time with a requirement in law for close independent monitoring of the national network, with particular attention paid to rural and poor areas.

Among measures lined up by Mr Byers are a strengthened Post Office Users National Council, appointment of a regulator, computer services for all sub-post offices and a study on the viability of the network.

Mr Byers said that the Government was committed to maintaining as wide a spread of post offices as possible and he would set out in law a real commitment to monitor its reach and a promise to act where necessary. "Local post offices are a vital part of local communities but over the last few decades they have been in decline.

"People's lifestyles and buying habits have changed, which has led to the future of many offices being threatened," Mr Byers said last night. "These measures are an important step in providing the Post Office with the opportunity for a robust and healthy commercial future and helping to ensure they continue to be at the heart of our rural and urban communities."

The review of the viability of the post office network has been ordered personally by Tony Blair in response to fears that bank closures in some deprived areas had left the post office as the only means of accessing cash.