Norwich post offices still struggling - despite new government funding

Norwich post offices still struggling - despite new government funding

Prior to this week's government pledge that no more post offices would close and a promised injection of �1.3bn funding to boost the network, many postmasters in the city feared a bleak future.

Declining customer numbers have left many struggling to make ends meet, with the post office network losing both public and private business to other delivery channels, threatening its viability.

But the government's pledge that the network is not for sale and the cash boost to extend opening hours and reduce queues has alleviated some of their concerns.

The Evening News launched a 'Save our Post Offices' campaign after the then Labour government announced a nationwide cull of post offices three years ago, with more than 50 branches in Norfolk and Suffolk earmarked for closure.

More than 15,000 people signed our petition calling for Post Office bosses to think again.

One of the branches we helped save was Vauxhall Street in Norwich, whose sub-postmaster Malcolm Wright, feared the worst for the future before this week's government announcement.

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And despite the good news, he still warned that his core business was on the slide.

He said: 'We have good days and bad days. Some of my core business, including pensions, has fallen about 10pc in the past 10 weeks. The last government discouraged people from using the post office, and prior to the announcement, the new government had done nothing to change that.

'If the government had not made this week's announcement, I would have anticipated that the Post Office network would have been decimated in the next two years.

'I would like to see the government introduce a post office bank account like they have on the continent. That would bring people back to post offices.'

The sub-postmistress at Silver Road Post Office in Norwich, who did not wish to give her name, painted a rosier picture than Mr Wright, but she still warned that business was in danger of being taken from them by the government.

'We're not as busy as we used to be, but we are keeping our heads above water,' she said.

'But we have just had a little knock.

'One of my customers who used to come in with his giro cheque has been told by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs that he will have to go to a bank now, rather than us in the future, which he does not want to do. While the government is supposed to be supporting us, it still works against us through the back door.'

Post Offices across the country have, in some cases, been forced to diversify to survive, with others introducing new initiatives to bring back the customers.

Caron Press, who is sub-postmistress at Mile Cross Post Office in Aylsham Road, said the government's investment in the network was excellent news, but warned that younger people rarely visited post offices.

She said: 'The money and news from the government will help.

'Post office trade has gone down obviously with more people accessing services online, rather than coming to us. Car taxes, foreign currency, etc, can all be done online.

'While we have got a faithful elderly customer base, who will do anything to support post offices, I don't think that younger people really know what we are here for.'

The government's announcement was made on Wednesday during the second reading of the Postal Services Bill.

In time, it means that the Post Office network could be converted into a mutual structure as part of plans to hand its ownership and running to employees, sub-postmasters and local communities.

Business secretary Vince Cable said that the funding package would reverse the years of decline and secure the network's long-term future.

However, while welcoming the news, Mike O'Connor, chief executive of watchdog, Consumer Focus, said the Post Office's long-term future could only be secured if they provided the services consumers needed at a high standard in places people could access.

The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters (NFSP) greeted the news as 'a welcome step in the right direction', but warned that additional guarantees on the future relationship with Royal Mail and on new government work were also required if the national network was to have a sustainable future.

NFSP general secretary George Thomson said: 'This is the third round of major funding which the NFSP has secured from government to help stabilise the post office network in recent years.

'The funding is undoubtedly welcome and could lead to a sustainable future for the network, but the government must first learn the lessons from the previous two rounds of funding, which ultimately failed to achieve that aim.

'This money risks going the same way and resulting in the same old story of falling customer numbers and a post office network in crisis, unless the government takes decisive action to deliver a 10-year Inter-Business Agreement (IBA) with Royal Mail and new work for customers to carry out over our counters.

'The NFSP is involved in intensive discussions with the government to make sure this new money does give us a sustainable future.

'We are also placing pressure on ministers to guarantee new government services through our post offices.

'We have long argued that post offices are ideally placed to serve as the front office for government, complementing online services by giving citizens the opportunity to access face-to-face the full range of government information, verification and transactions in a local and trusted environment.

'This can also save public money by allowing government to reduce back-office functions.

'Unless ministers deliver on these two key issues, the funding package risks achieving nothing more than creating the best refurbished, but emptiest branches in Europe. Sub-postmasters simply cannot keep their post offices operating for their customers without new income.'

How has your post office diversified in order to survive? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email