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'Hassle, stress, and responsibility': Why 2,500 Post Offices could disappear in 2019

PUBLISHED: 16:36 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:36 20 May 2019

The Post Office at the Cellar House in Eaton. Picture: Anglia Picture Agency

The Post Office at the Cellar House in Eaton. Picture: Anglia Picture Agency

Anglia Picture Agency

Norfolk's Post Offices are on the brink of collapse, leaving thousands of people and businesses without access to vital services, according to the county's sub-postmasters.

Victoria MacDonald (left) helping a Post Office customer. Picture: Anglia Picture AgencyVictoria MacDonald (left) helping a Post Office customer. Picture: Anglia Picture Agency

A new report has revealed 20pc of sub-postmasters are planning on resigning or downsizing in the next 12 months - placing 2,500 branches in immediate peril.

The news comes as the government continues its plans to end Post Office subsidies by 2021.

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The consequence of this will be "catastrophic" for local communities, according to the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters (NFSP).

The Post Office at the Cellar House in Eaton. Picture: Anglia Picture AgencyThe Post Office at the Cellar House in Eaton. Picture: Anglia Picture Agency

And sadly the story is no different in Norfolk, with the county's sub-postmasters saying the only motivation in taking on a Post Office is "community good will".

Sub-postmasters run a Post Office alongside a second business in a bid to make it economically viable, such as running a counter out of a greengrocers or pharmacy.

Victoria MacDonald is a sub-postmaster in Eaton, who runs a Post Office counter out of the village's community pub, the Cellar House.

Ms MacDonald said the Post Office is breaking even: "It's a disproportionate amount of hassle, stress and responsibility to a Post Office for the remuneration you get.

"I can genuinely say the only motivation in doing it is for the good will of the community because we know how important this service is."

Ms MacDonald believes one of the main reasons post masters are resigning is because the payment model has changed from being a wage to a commission. She added that bank closures on top of this have added to greater responsibility but without the required training.

"Since the bank shut in the village we've got people coming in to do what they would usually go to Barclays or Lloyds for," she said. "We've got an increasingly elderly community with a new retirement home just opened up, and people want to pick up their retirement money or pay in a cheque. And that's before you start doing the passports, the driving licenses and so on."

And with online shopping on the rise, often footfall through her pub brings in no money at all.

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"We get a lot of people doing click and collect, we have people paying online for postage and then dropping it off at the counter," she said.

"In the past the Post Office would sell postage, then people would send a letter and then stop for a coffee - but posting something is just part of their day and they don't stop anymore."

The NFSP has also called for a subsidy to be guaranteed for rural post offices past the 2021 deadline.

In places like North Norfolk - which is both rural and has an older demographic - funding is eve more critical.

"For a more elderly community or people with disabilities losing the Post Office would be a huge blow as they can't get to the city or another town with ease, and will be stranded without these services," Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said.

"I think it's all about adding services which are valuable to the community," he said.

"Examples are those which have diversified by the likes of linking up with the Department for Work and Pensions, as well as offering other financial services."

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The number of Post Offices in the East of England has been in steady decline since 2010.

According to latest figures, the amount of outlets in the region dropped by 20 between 2017 and 2018, from 1,136 to 1,116.

This was a year-on-year percentage difference of 1.8pc however the overall change between 2010 and 2018 has been closer to 3pc.

The NFSP said in its submission to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that "the viability of sub post offices and the morale of sub-postmasters has been eroded to the extent that the network's resilience is extremely limited".

It added: "We believe a tipping point has been passed and the consequences of this are now being realised."

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