Government annouces £20m funding for rural Post Offices

The Government has announced £20m of funding for protecting rural post offices where they are the only remaining shop or service in a village or isolated location. Campaigners broadly welcomed the news, but there are concerns that a significant number of post offices will still be vulnerable to closure.

The newly announced programme aims to provide support for around 3,400 crucial community and outreach Post Office branches, often in more sparsely populated locations, and was unveiled by the government as part of a wider £640m post office modernisation programme. Post Offices that are not viable in purely financial terms but which are identified as "the last shop in the village" will be seen as community post offices, and will be able to continue operating.

The Rural Shops Alliance said this was "a significant piece of good news". It added: "For many, this will be a key element in the viability of what is usually a shop of vital importance to the community it serves." But the alliance said a big question mark remained over the future for Post Office branches which did not meet the criteria for being a community branch in a small settlement.

Although full details are not yet announced, the alliance said it seemed clear that enhanced funding would be used to encourage more sub postmasters to leave the network. The alliance said: "Unfortunately, this statement was very short on detail as to what the proposed changes would mean for the people who operate the Post Office branch network."

RAY's umbrella organisation Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) said it too wanted to know what would happen to branches that did not meet "community" criteria. ACRE chief executive Janice Banks said: "We are pleased that the government has recognised the need to provide these essential outlets with the financial support they need. We are also encouraged that the aim of this new funding is to enable the improvement and modernisation of these branches, which will help make them more viable businesses.

"It is important that the needs of rural communities are met and post offices provide two vital functions – they allow access to a range of essential services and serve as an important social hub. However, the government and Post Office Limited need to make clear what will happen to rural post offices that do not meet the criteria for 'community' status."

Ms Banks said the government had stated that 3,000 post offices were unsustainable under current arrangements but had announced funding for only 2,000 community post offices. She added: "We also want to know if branches that have already converted to a Post Office Local, but are not viable financially, will be able to become community post offices. We are seeking further details on these issues."

A Post Office Strategy 2020 document, called Securing the Future, pledges that the branch network will be maintained "at around its current size". The document says: "With over 11,500 Post Office branches we have a physical and personal presence in the heart of communities across the UK. No one else comes close to having such a genuinely national footprint. Our strategy comes with a clear commitment – we will maintain our branch network at over 11,500 branches."

In this story

Rural Shops Alliance

Securing the Future - Post Office Strategy Document

Acknowledgment - this story was adapted from an article on the Rural Services Network website.