Last post could be brought forward to 9am in some rural areas as part of a Royal Mail efficiency drive. A two-week review of postboxes across Devon and Cornwall may see final collection times brought forward, with fears it could cripple the growing number of small businesses which operate from remote rural barns and cottages.
A total of 9,500 postboxes have been classified as "rural" across the nation, because they are located more than 20 minutes away from a town and the review will assess how much and at what time of day these boxes are used. At present, last collection times are between 4pm and 6pm, but following the review this will be moved forward to between 9am and 4pm.
Anthony Steen, Conservative MP for Totnes, said the changes would leave people in rural areas with a "third-class" postal service. He has urged the Royal Mail's chief executive, Adam Crozier, to abandon the plans.
Gary Hepburn, the regional manager for the South and West for Postwatch, which monitors postal service standards, added: "The latest collection in some rural areas is already 11am to noon. Any changes to collection time would be seen as a decrease in service to consumers."
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said the move would be detrimental to the rural economy. "It is difficult to find a village with more than one shop or garage and there is less priority for rural public transport.
"We have tried hard to turn around this shrinking of the countryside. There is a growth of small businesses that work from their bedrooms or converted barns in remote places, for whom hard copies of material sent through the post is absolutely essential."
Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall, said many would feel the move had left rural residents once again, with the "thin end of the wedge".
"It is not just the business community that will be affected. The more remote people are from towns, the more important it is to retain regular postbox collections," he said.
Earlier this year, the industry's regulator, Postcomm, announced it would investigate the reasons for the "recent collapse in Royal Mail's quality of service" after it missed all 15 of its delivery points. Chris Webb, of Postcomm, said the licence under which Royal Mail operated required one daily collection and one delivery. He added: What we would not want to see is that one collection being made at 9am."
A Royal Mail spokesman confirmed that it was reviewing its collection times, but said: "Claims that we are reducing our services for rural customers in Devon and Cornwall are scare-mongering."