Post Office Closures - Worcester News

A painful national process has entered its final phase as the sub post office closure programme at last reaches Worcestershire.

The government has decreed that 2,500 of the country's 14,000 sub post offices must close and so a little over one in five will have shut their doors by early next year. The process has even reached Ambridge - the final confirmation (as if we needed it) that "The Archers" is set in Worcestershire. Their fictional office is not earmarked for closure - yet. Even communities that think they are safe can discover that things change during the six-week consultation process.

Worcester City felt the pain of closures during the last round, the so-called Urban Reinvention programme, so it "only" faces one now. Communities like Pinvin and Bengeworth in Wychavon and Rushwick in Malvern Hills have not been so lucky. My Mid Worcestershire constituency faces five closures and they will all hurt.

Post offices provide a vital service to local people - often the most vulnerable people - and to businesses. But the dilemma is that 2,500 offices must close - the government has said so. As MPs, councillors, local people and papers like the "Worcester News" campaign to save offices, they do so in the full knowledge that there is a very real risk that for every office reprieved, another will take its place.

So, to fight for one area's post office is to threaten another's.

In fact there is some flexibility in the target. The government had said that 2,500 closures must happen but in my position as chairman of the Commons committee scrutinising the process, I won clarification that a number between 2,400 and 2,500 would be acceptable.

On this basis I feel I can campaign to save only one or at most two of the five offices in my area proposed for closure. To campaign to save all of them would be to mislead everyone about the chances of success and to risk other, probably even less welcome closures.

So we have just six weeks to mount our arguments and to demonstrate support. Six weeks is not long enough, but it's all the government would allow. I have already had scores of letters and e-mail from the people of Bengeworth and we are developing a carefully argued document to give to Post Office Ltd. We are inviting a Post Office Ltd representative to come to a public meeting later in the month.

And if we do win, there is the worrying thought we might have condemned another community to the loss of its post office. Then any victory would be bitter-sweet indeed.

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