Citizen’s Advice calls for increased Post Office fundingPost Office (PO) September 17 2020
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Thursday 17th September 2020
Our nation’s largest independent advice provider has urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to include more investment for the Post Office in the review of government spending that he’s currently undertaking…
Citizen’s Advice has reminded Mr Sunak that ‘post offices deliver vital services to local communities’ and that the Government must not lead the network into ‘managed decline’, as he prepares his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).
The CSR takes place approximately every three years and sets out Departmental resource budgets, capital budgets and devolved administrations’ block grants for the period ahead.
This particular Review is set to report in the autumn and will be a key economic and strategic indicator for the years 2021/22 to 2024/25.
Government network subsidy to the Post Office is at £50 million in the current financial year, sharply down from the £210m in 2012/13, while the annual grant has fallen from £200m down to £70m in 2020/21. These reductions, combined with the absence of any Government funding commitment for the Post Office beyond 2021, have prompted serious concerns about the inadequacy of state support for the Post Office.
CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey tells CWU News that “it’s no coincidence that the past seven years or so of reduced investment have also seen job losses, Crown closures and a withdrawal from various business activities.
“And that’s why this CSR is, potentially, extremely important. Our Post Office is in dire need of meaningful investment and this is a chance for us to make our case – as well as an opportunity for the Government to put into practice its talk of ‘prioritising jobs and skills’, of ‘levelling up economic opportunity’ and ‘investing in infrastructure, innovation and people’.”
Those aspirations are all included within the Government’s list of priorities for the CSR. And the CWU, as well as organisations such as Citizen’s Advice, are pressing hard to keep them to their word.
Annabel Barnett, Senior Policy Researcher at Citizens Advice, says that the Government should increase funding to the Post Office “in order to protect the valuable services the network provides and allow post offices to deliver even greater social value.
“Post offices deliver vital services to local communities such as face-to-face banking, bill payment and parcel collection and delivery,” she explains, adding that they “often step in to serve local communities when bank branches and shops in the area close” and that, “throughout the pandemic, when community post offices – often officially the “last shop in the village” – offered a lifeline to people and communities that would otherwise have been cut off.”
With increased funding, post offices could expand their role within communities, she continues, suggesting, for example, “an ‘Address & Collect’ service for people who don’t have access to their post, such as homeless people and survivors of domestic abuse.”
Ms Barnett, who has written a detailed Citizen’s Advice briefing on the issue, poses the issue to Chancellor Sunak in stark terms, as a choice between enabling the network to survive and thrive or of leading the Post Office “into a managed decline.”
Our own CWU head of research Bill Taylor has presented further evidence on this, comparing the Post Office funding decisions of our UK Government to the investment strategy of France in respect of ‘La Poste’.
“Similarly state-owned, La Poste has been granted a €900m (£823m) tax relief for the 2018/2022 period, which will enable it to maintain its high-density network of post offices in rural areas and continue to fulfil its social role and public service mission,” Bill tells CWU News.
“On top of this, they actually do have a Post Bank, ‘La Banque Postale’ – which is a fully-owned subsidiary of La Poste and provides banking services through the French post office network – secured €1.83 billion (£1.67bn) in state funding for the period 2015-2020 to deliver banking services to economically disadvantaged people.”