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May 14, 2013 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. They are at the heart of what goes on and the relationships between those who run small businesses and their customers can be absolutely crucial in supporting many people through day to day contact and support, particularly for pensioners. 

As someone who ran a small business for many years, I know just how tough life can be for the owners. 

We have many excellent retailers and there are many success stories across Formby, Crosby, Maghull and Aintree in spite of the tough financial situation which we all face.

Among the retailers are our sub post offices and the plight of our sub post offices has been highlighted in a report written by the National Federation of Subpostmasters. The report paints a bleak picture of the reality for post offices and it is consistent with what I was told by the subpostmistress at Formby, Sue. 

Sue also runs Crosby sub post office and told me how the support from the Post Office has declined. Sue also told me how her income has declined at both post offices. She barely earns enough to cover her costs including paying her staff and when you read the report by the National Federation, you can see why.

The NFSP carried out a survey of its members. The results show a disastrous financial situation facing most post offices, which will inevitably lead to closures unless urgent action is taken by Post Office Ltd and the government.

The survey of almost 750 subpostmasters shows that operating costs are rising, while personal drawings (the money subpostmasters take as salary) have fallen by 36% in six years. One in four subpostmasters take no salary from their Post Office income.

The survey reveals a clear failure in the government’s plan to turn post offices into a ‘front office’ for new government services, announced in 2010.  

In reality, the survey shows, few new services have been introduced since 2010 and most of the much-trumpeted financial and government services are yielding little or no income for the vast majority of subpostmasters. 

Almost no subpostmasters receive any income at all from many of the key Post Office financial services. In fact, subpostmasters are earning less from Post Office financial services than they were three years ago. 

George Thomson, General Secretary of the NFSP, said: "There is now little doubt that the Government’s promise of no more planned closures was hollow, and that the failure to make full use of the network will lead to mass closures through the back door."

The NFSP believes the key to post office survival is the introduction of banking and financial services which lead to frequent repeat transactions in post offices, including comprehensive access to all high street bank accounts.

In its report, the NFSP says that the Post Office should set up a new current account as part of a wider suite of banking services, which could include accounts aimed at children and small businesses, and a budgeting account and/or credit union access, for Universal Credit claimants. A state-backed Postbank offering distinctive high quality services to all sections of society should also be developed. 

I met the post office recently to hear about some of their plans. They told me that they are interested in extending the hours and changing the way that sub post offices work, a rather different vision for the future than that proposed by the NFSP. I hope that the government listens to the NFSP and introduces the changes recommended in the report. I also hope that the government and the Post Office listens to Sue so that our sub post offices in Formby, Crosby and elsewhere can be saved.

In the meantime, I would encourage everyone to support their local post office and for that matter other local businesses to the benefit of everyone in each of the communities in Sefton Central.



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