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Caithness News Bulletins January 2006

January 2007 December 2006

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Highland Council Post Office Network Consultation

Post Office Consultation Item

20 January 06
Councillors Quiz Proposed Changes To The Postal Services
Following the Government's announcement in December that 2,500 urban and rural post offices across the UK will close, The Highland Council invited representatives from five organisations with interests in the mail network, including the Department of Trade and Industry, to meet with them before the Council's deadline for submitting a formal response to the consultation.

During a meeting of The Highland Council's Renewing Democracy and Community Planning Select Committee members discussed the proposed changes to the mail network and asked questions following presentations from The Department of Trade and Industry, Post Office Ltd, POSTCOMM - the independent regulator for mail services, POSTWATCH - the independent consumer watchdog for mail services and Lynn Kneller, Sub Postmaster at Conon Bridge Post Office and Branch Secretary of the Scottish Northern Branch of the National Federation of Sub Postmasters.

Currently there are 1,676 post office branches in Scotland, 205 of which are located in the Highlands. Of these, 6 are urban and 199 are rural. According to statistics from Post Office Limited, 35% of Scottish branches have less than 100 customers a week and across the UK 4 million fewer people are using the Post Office than two years ago.

Chairman of the Committee, Councillor David Alston thanked the representatives for coming to the meeting and welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Government's proposals. He said: "We appreciate that the Post Office faces huge challenges to provide an affordable and effective modern service which takes into account changes in how we do business and in increasing use of the Internet. The current rural network loses 3million a week so it is not viable. However, we need to ensure we push for a sustainable postal service which satisfies the changing needs of users, wherever they live. We must be mindful too of the wider social and economic impacts any closure of post offices will have in our communities and we are seeking to assist the Government and Post Office Ltd in these matters."

During his presentation Andy Bayfield from Post Office Ltd said that although 2,500 urban and rural post offices would close, there would be an extension of funding for rural post offices and the introduction of 500 new ~outreach~ services along with new access criteria to determine the level of provision across the network and to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities. He confirmed that information on which post offices are planned for closure will not be available before the summer this year.

Councillor Alston added: "Any access criteria introduced must take into account the availability of public transport and travel times and not just distances. One size does not fit all as local needs differ from community to community. We acknowledge steps made to offer alternative outreach services but these are hard for us to assess until we have details of which Highland offices are closing."

Carron MacDiarmid, The Highland Council's Head of Policy and Performance said: "The Government has outlined plans in the future to explore the role of Local Authorities in assessing local needs so there is a need for us to examine and clarify what is being proposed. We are keen to play a lead role in facilitating further consultation and in exploring, along with other Highland public agencies, the possibilities for a shared service approach where post offices are identified for closure."

Feedback from the meeting will be included in The Highland Council's formal response to the consultation which will be presented to the Resources Committee on February 14.

Members of the public can contribute their views on the changes proposed by the Government on the Council's discussion forum at http://highlandlife.net/discussion_forums/the_future_of_the_post_office_network

These views will be taken into account in the Council's response