More than 3,000 rural post offices face ‘armageddon’ without a £50million bailout, campaigners warned yesterday.
They are calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the annual subsidy after April next year, when it is due to expire.
The cash keeps afloat 3,100 branches that are too small to make a profit and are now being battered by the pandemic.
The fate of the subsidy will be decided in the spending review tomorrow.
More than 3,000 rural post offices face ‘armageddon’ without a £50million bailout, campaigners warned yesterday (file image)
Andy Furey, of the Communications Workers’ Union, said: ‘We’re already at a tipping point – if we don’t get the subsidy it’s armageddon.’
Post offices have become crucial for many elderly or isolated people because hundreds of banks and cash machines have shut, prompting the Mail to launch the Save Our Post Offices campaign last year.
SNP MP Marion Fellows, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for post offices, said: ‘During the Covid-19 pandemic, sub-postmasters across the UK have proven just how essential they are to communities – the Government cannot sit by and allow the valued service be run into the ground.’
Tory peer Baroness Altmann said: ‘I would urge ministers to make the commitment on the subsidy.
‘Post offices are a vital lifeline, especially for older people who have been on their own, managing without help from others, and can’t get money anywhere else because banks have shut.’
Peter Hall, of the National Federation for Sub-Postmasters, said: ‘We’re not scaremongering when we say that there would be many closures if it were removed.’
Post offices sit at the heart of rural life and have performed a vital role during the Covid-19 crisis, providing a friendly face and basic provisions to vulnerable customers unable to travel on public transport.
They were given ‘essential’ status by the Government allowing them to remain open during both national lockdowns.
Dozens of stories have emerged of postmasters going above and beyond to help elderly customers, including checking on those living by themselves or arranging shopping deliveries.
Even before the pandemic, post offices had become many people’s main touchpoint with their savings as hundreds of bank branches and cash machines have closed.
Campaigners have long argued that older customers are often unable to use internet banking, or that poor internet connections in remote areas make surfing the net near impossible.
Branches are calling on Rishi Sunak to extend the annual subsidy after April next year which keeps afloat 3,100 branches that are too small to make a profit (file image)
The Post Office has undergone a major transformation in recent years as it adapts to falling revenues in an online world.
It has seen income from Government services, such as driving licences and passports, fall from £576 million in 2004-05 to less than £100 million.
The Government has also used ‘bullying’ tactics to force pensioners to give up their much-loved Post Office Card Accounts, which provides a simple bank account without the worry of banking and overdraft fees.
The Daily Mail launched a Save Our Post Offices campaign last year, demanding that customers are not forced to go online when they don’t want to, and forcing banks to pay their way.
Following the campaign the Post Office gave postmasters an extra £37million this year – equivalent to a 10 per cent pay rise.
But despite this many branches are closing, often because the sub-postmaster can no longer make a living or retires without a replacement.
The number of post offices directly run by the central Post Office, known as crown offices, has also fallen from 373 to 191 in the last ten years.
The closure of these larger branches, often in city centres, has caused outrage amongst local communities as they have been replaced with a small counter in a local retailer such as WH Smith.
The Post Office said: ‘We are a critical infrastructure asset to the UK Government and await any announcement about future funding with interest.’