Government plans to sell off the Royal Mail could lead to the closure of more than 9,000 post offices, according to a new report today.
Research among 800 sub-postmasters by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) found that nine out of 10 said they could not survive without Royal Mail business, while a similar number believed they were unlikely to continue if the Government continued to press ahead with plans for a so-called "Locals" model of franchised post office services.
The union, which is campaigning against the privatisation, said that based on the study's findings, more than 9,000 post offices would close.
Most of those questioned had little or no confidence that the Government will return to post offices services which have been removed.
CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: "These figures clearly demonstrate the fears of sub-postmasters and mistresses about the fate of our cherished post office network.
"Based on these projections, the post office network faces a greater threat than anyone previously dared believe. Even the warnings of postal watchdog Consumer Focus - which warned last month that 2,000 offices could close under the Post Office Locals plan - fall short.
"Through the privatisation of Royal Mail, refusal to guarantee business and the removal of government contracts, the Government is failing post offices.
"It must listen to the opinions of those who work in the Post Office and decide whether the threat of mass closures is something it wants on its hands.
"Sub-postmasters will vote with their feet if the erosion of services and support continues and that will have a devastating impact on communities across the country."
Postal Affairs Minister Edward Davey said: "The Government is clear - the Post Office is not for sale and there will be no programme of closures.
"Instead we have announced £1.34 billion of funding for the Post Office, to maintain and modernise the network. In return for the funding, Post Office Ltd must maintain a network of at least 11,500 branches.
"The organisation that represents subpostmasters - the National Federation of SubPostmasters - supports the Postal Services Bill. They recognise the important steps we are taking to turn the post office network around and end the years of decline."
National Federation of SubPostmasters general secretary George Thomson said: "The NFSP has made clear that a minimum 10-year inter-business agreement (IBA) between the Post Office and Royal Mail is required if the companies are separated, both to allow the public and business to continue to access Royal Mail services at their local post office and to secure the large proportion of subpostmasters' income which comes from carrying out work on behalf of Royal Mail.
"In addition to the £1.34 billion in Government funding already committed, a 10-year IBA and new Government work at post offices are undoubtedly the essential ingredients required to give our post offices a sustainable future. However, scaremongering about the future without an IBA and the forced introduction of the Post Office Local model does nothing but harm to the post office network and to subpostmasters."