PLANS to close thousands of post offices across the country have been met with resignation by Mid Cheshire's postmasters.
The DTI announced a series of changes to the national post office network, which included closing 2,500 offices from next summer but continuing the annual £150m subsidy until at least 2011, closing the Post Office Card Account in March 2010 but allowing the Post Office to bid for its replacement, and setting up 500 'innovative outlets' in small, remote communities, including mobile post offices and offices in village halls.
But James Hardy, of Middlewich Post Office on Lewin Street, warned the proposals would have a bad effect on all post offices regardless of the area they are in.
He explained: 'I think this was inevitable, but it's very bad news. The closures will come in smaller offices and I hope it won't hit Middlewich too hard, but we will be badly affected by the closure of the Post Office Card Account.
'Although the Post Office will be invited to tender for the new version, we just don't have the money to launch a successful bid, as proved by the fact that when they tendered another of our accounts, the TV franchise, we were comprehensively outbid by Paypoint which won it from us. We will have to wait and see what happens here, but it's not good news.'
Carol Pickering, postmis-tress at Swanlow Lane Post Office in Winsford, said: 'It seems that notification appears in the Press before we hear anything - that makes it a bit difficult to deal with. We don't officially know what's going on at this stage but I'm no more concerned than I usually am.
'As far as we're concerned we're not under threat at the moment but we want to re-mind people that despite their support in writing we need them to use the post offices if they want them to stay open - it's people coming through the door that count.'
David Moore, postmaster at Davenham, added: 'We're just as much in the dark as everyone else over this. The Government hasn't told any post offices whether they will be open or shut this time next year or two years' time. I would have thought it should at least have told us something, but now we just have to sit and wait it out.
'Closing the card account is also a very great shame as it will hit pensioners worst, and they will find the change, whatever it is, hard to adjust to and confusing. It seems that it is always the most vulnerable who are hit hardest. I thought this was a Labour government, which is supposed to look after people in need.'
Jenny Collins, who runs Meadowbank sub-post office in Winsford, added: 'No one tells us anything but we haven't got much of a chance - if the Government wants to close post offices then it will.
'I've got something through the post from Gordon Brown about budgets and I feel like sending it back. There's nothing we can do - they've taken half the business away so we've got no chance at all.'
* To take part in the consultation, visit www. dti.gov.uk/consultations/ page36024.html.
Closures would hit 'most vulnerable'
THE DTI says the post office network is 'unsustainable', saying it lost £2m every week in 2005-6, which is predicted to rise to £4m per week in the near future, while in the last two years the number of people using the post office each week has dropped by four million.
It also said that a commercially viable network would need to be as small as 3,600-4,000 offices - though it did not intend to reduce the network, currently more than 14,000 post offices strong - by that amount.
Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said it was 'unsustainable at its current size', adding: 'The Post Office faces a long-term challenge from the internet, e-mail and text messaging, which have hit at central services such as banking and post.'
But the Middlewich-based Cheshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says the closures will 'hit the vulnerable hardest' and will force people to drive to their nearest branch.
A spokesman said: 'Alistair Darling clearly has no idea what sustainability means in generating 30-40 million more road miles a year once the closures take place.
'The innovative outlets are better than nothing, but are not a full substitute for village post offices - they do not provide the same economic boost, and they are highly vulnerable to closure.'
Eddisbury MP Stephen O'Brien said: 'It is clear this Government does not understand the great importance of post offices to community life. Since 1999, Eddisbury has lost two branches. Now it looks like a further 23 could shut their doors.'
82% of Federation of Small Businesses members said it would adversely affect them, but Postwatch, the industry watchdog, said the current situation of 'increasing financial losses and fewer transactions' could not go on.
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