Government urged to alter post office plans

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BRITAIN will lose its network of local post offices unless the Government modifies its plans for privatisation, the National Consumer Council says today, writes David Nicholson-Lord.

In its response to the Green Paper on postal services, the NCC says ministers must name a minimum size for the network: there are now about 20,000 post offices. Without such a figure, the paper's commitment to a nation-wide network is meaningless.

The NCC criticises the privatisation plans, in particular assurances that essential postal services will be protected, as vague. It also says it fears a repeat of the mistakes made in previous privatisations, where 'too generous' price controls led to excess profits for the industry at the expense of consumers.

In spite of existing subsidies to post offices, 200 close each year. An estimated 5,000 may close because of the introduction of automatic credit transfer - the direct payment of benefits to clients. Yet as village shops close and banks pull out of the inner city, post offices have become lifelines for both rural and urban areas.

In Scotland, 88 per cent of people in rural areas would have to travel more than three miles to the nearest supermarket, 78 per cent to the nearest bank and 93 per cent to the nearest building society. Yet 42 per cent of people in the countryside, and 47 per cent in suburban areas, have no access to public transport.