The Post Office Network by sdfsb346f

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									                                                               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: planningpolicy@east-northamptonshire.gov.uk

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: dti.enquiries@dti.gsi.gov.uk
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.

								
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