Agenda Item 16 The Post Office Network Consultation Response Form The closing date for this consultation is 8 March 2007 You may find it helpful to set out your responses to the consultation using this response form. Name: Michael Burton (Senior Planning Policy Officer) Organisation’s name and remit (if applicable): East Northamptonshire Council Address: East Northamptonshire House Cedar Drive Thrapston Northants NN14 4LZ Email: email@example.com Return completed forms (preferably by e-mail) to: Postal Office Network Consultation Department of Trade and Industry Response Centre 1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET Fax: 00 44 (0) 20 7215 5329 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Please cross one box from the following list of options that best describes you. Individual Individual - Subpostmaster Small to Medium Enterprise Trade Union Interest Group Regional Organisation Devolved Administration 9 Local Government Central Government Other (please specify) __________________________________ Please feel free to answer as many or as few questions as you wish. It is helpful if you can explain your views as fully as possible in the comments boxes, especially where you disagree with the proposals set out in the consultation paper. Question 1. Do you think the Government’s forward strategy for the post office network addresses all the key issues and challenges the network faces? Yes No 9 No view Comments The consultation document clearly describes the challenges facing the Post Office, including providing headline quantitative data regarding the size of the network, together with its subsidy and ongoing rates of financial loss. Greater use of tables, graphs etc to illustrate this data may be useful. However, while the document clearly describes the problems and shortcomings of the Post Office network in its current form, it does not sufficiently describe (baseline) trends affecting the network since 1997. Post Office closures in rural areas and wider concerns about rural isolation and the loss of local services have been issues for a significant length of time. In response previous campaigns to keep Post Offices open, East Northamptonshire Council uses NNDR relief and small direct grants and provides business advice and support as tools to assist individual Post Offices to remain viable. Overall, a more “joined up” approach is needed from Government and other agencies with respect to retaining local services and the wider issue of maintaining sustainable communities. Post Offices play a vital role in maintaining sustainable rural communities, as acknowledged in other key strategies and legislation such as the Rural White Paper 2000, Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 1 and the recent Local Government White Paper – Strong & Prosperous Communities. In addition to the above, with Government policies committed to reducing carbon emissions, the closure of these services forces business owners to travel further to make bank deposits and access postal systems. This creates congestion and pollution, thereby having a further detrimental impact on the reduction of carbon footprints. Question 2. Are there other significant factors affecting the future of the post office network which appear to have been overlooked in the Government’s proposed approach? Yes 9 No No view Comments An initial concern is the consultation timing: It was unfortunate that the 12 week period was started before Christmas, as this has effectively cut short the consultation time by 2-3 weeks. It is also considered that the consultation has not been adequately advertised. Individuals, businesses and residents are not fully aware of it, or the proposals that are within it. All proposals to close specific post offices should be advertised effectively to all members of the community affected by this. While reference is made to the possible development of broadband, insufficient emphasis has been given to this as a potential tool to develop the network. For example, the provision of joint (mobile and fixed) internet café, library and post office services may lead to economies of scale, through providing multi-function services. It is now possible to conduct some services, traditionally dealt with in Post Offices, online (like car tax). Despite the spread of broadband access to rural communities, there is still a significant number of people who do not have computers, or computer skills. A further concern is the recent removal of TV licensing from the remit of the Post Office. Such action does not correlate with the Government objective to “focus on services to customers…” (paragraph 4.3). Planning for the long term future of local communities should be considered. In seeking to save money in the immediate future, care should be taken that other Government agenda are taken into account like reducing carbon emissions and reducing dependence on the car. Post Office closures contradict the Government’s emphasis on creating sustainable communities. Question 3. Do you have comments on the national access criteria proposed? Yes 9 No No view Comments The Council wishes to emphasise that villages should be viewed as communities, not merely dormitories. Access to postal services is an important part of accessibility issues for the elderly and disabled. A local assessment of the needs of these residents should form an important part of the selection for closure process. The Government should ensure that these groups are not further disadvantaged or become financially excluded as a result of the proposed access criteria. The proposed access targets provide a simple headline target for the future development of the Post Office network, though it is noted that no clear indication is provided as to how the proposed access requirements have been obtained. Are the figures based on existing coverage and the estimated 2500 closures proposed as part of the restructuring plan? While clear definitions for “deprived urban areas” and remote areas are provided, there are no specific definitions for “urban” and “rural” areas. • Does “urban” equate to settlements > 5000 population, or relate to the status of individual “urban” areas based upon their role as a service centre? • Similarly, where is the division drawn between “rural” and “remote” areas? Clear definitions underlining the access targets should be clearly set out. However, there is support for the principle of changing the strategy to Post Office closures, from a reactive approach to avoidable closure of Post Offices in rural areas, to a more clearly defined strategy for managing changes to the network (paragraph 5.3). Question 4. Do you have comments on the access criteria proposed for deprived urban and rural areas? Yes 9 No No view Comments See Question 3 above. The responses in Question 3 are particularly pertinent for deprived communities. A further consideration is the importance of a Post Office to the viability of the local shop that houses it, again of particular concern in rural areas. Broader concerns regarding business efficiency are also raised, e.g. rural businesses depending on parcel posting will experience a negative impact if they have to travel a distance to access services. The loss of such an essential service as the Post Office can have a fundamental impact on the sustainability of rural communities. Their retention supports the development of stronger communities which is a key priority of the Northamptonshire Local Area Agreement (LAA) in relation to the county rural renewal strategy, which looks at sustaining and developing neighbourhoods in rural Northamptonshire. Many small businesses find the rural Post Offices a lifeline, as rural banking branches decrease. The services of the Post Offices are the only option for their daily banking needs. The closure will still hit small firms hard as they use the facilities for sending daily post, invoicing and purchasing via the postal system. Question 5. Do you have any suggestions as to how services might be better delivered through the post office network? Yes 9 No No view Comments See Question 2 above. Question 6. Do you have any comments on Outreach arrangements as a means of maintaining service to small and remote communities? Yes 9 No No view Comments East Northamptonshire Council support the principle of outreach services as a means of providing Post Office services to wider rural communities, subject to the comments in Question 2 above. Furthermore, there are concerns about whether the Outreach pilots that were run in some rural areas were adequately assessed and properly evaluated, particularly in relation to their long term sustainability. Question 7. Do you have comments on the practicality of community ownership of parts of the post office network, which might involve the transfer of assets to community organisations and/or the establishment of local mutual or co operative organisations to own and run local services? Yes 9 No No view Comments The development of community owned rural Post Offices is supported in principle. This should build upon particular success stories of community run shop projects etc and may provide an important mechanism for retaining individual facilities in certain localities. The Council wishes to raise some concerns about the proposal to grant the rural/ social network subsidy to Post Office Ltd. This might be more effective if used to develop rural community centres in villages where a range of services, the Post Office included, could be delivered (health, community safety etc). The overall access strategy, if appropriately applied, should enable transparency in making difficult decisions regarding the closure of individual Post Offices/ Sub-Post Offices. Thank you for taking the time to let us have your views. We do not intend to acknowledge receipt of individual responses unless you tick the box below. 9 Other comments The consultation document provides a concise description of the proposed strategy for rationalising the Post Office network and maintaining a sustainable service for the next 15-20 years. However, this current consultation should be followed up by comprehensive information about the proposed closure or replacement service proposals for all individual Post Offices. This will provide an important information resource for people to address the loss of their Post Office and identify how replacement services will be provided. A concern of East Northamptonshire Council is that there are often rumours about possible Post Office closures, which are not based upon any firm premise and are, indeed, often pure speculation. If such information upon implementation of the Post Office network strategy is readily available when the final strategy is agreed, this will enable us to direct customers making enquiries to the appropriate information source. The consultation process on the strategic approach to the Post Office network should also be followed up with meaningful consultations regarding individual post office closures. There are currently 20 Post Offices in East Northamptonshire; the majority serving rural communities and concerns are already being raised locally about the possible impact of the network strategy upon individual Post Offices. In summing up, the Council believes that the impact of the proposed closures on rural communities will be wide-ranging. In particular: community cohesion, sustainability, transport, rural businesses, climate change and social inclusion will all be adversely affected. Advertising of this consultation has been inadequate and many rural communities are still unaware of the proposals outlined in the document.