Last week I met with the Minister for Small Business and senior representatives of the Post Office to discuss our village post offices.
For a time the Post Office was closing branches, but now it is committed to maintaining them. There are 11,800 branches in the UK, the vast majority of which are run on an agency basis.
The small market towns and villages in my constituency generally retained their post offices, or at least an outreach service, under the rules which prevented closures when an alternative branch wasn’t close by.
The problem has often been in ensuring that there is a local business willing and able to host the branch, or that outreach hours are satisfactory.
Recently some local post offices, like a number of our pubs, have been hit by the business rates revaluation, and I raised my concern about this with the Minister.
Where a branch closes, I emphasised to the Post Office the importance of ensuring that a new one is opened in the village as quickly as possible.
There are new opportunities for post offices. There’s understandably been huge concern when our small market towns and villages have lost their high street banks as customers increasingly move to online banking.
Local businesses in particular still rely on local banking services. But post office branches can provide these.
An agreement was reached between the Post Office and major high street banks in January of this year so that 99 per cent of customers and over three quarters of businesses can access day-to-day banking at their local Post Office.
Most customers can use their local Post Office branch to deposit cash and cheques, check their balance and withdraw cash, regardless of the bank they have an account with.
I asked the Post Office whether they could extend their banking services to more businesses, and I suggested that the banks and the Post Office should do more to raise awareness of the range of banking services that local post office branches can offer.
The Post Office told me that they will shortly extend their banking services to 95 per cent of businesses, with Lloyds set to bring their business customers into the network.
The Post Office was separated from the Royal Mail five years ago, and the Government has provided some £2billion of funding to modernise the network.
Post offices are the largest retail network in the country, providing more than 170 products and services to customers. Let’s protect and develop this asset in our local communities.
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