Government solution needed for post offices to maintain vital services

Postmasters said today that government plans to strengthen the delivery of essential services ‘offline’ provides a critical opportunity to secure the post office network.

Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) western spokesperson Seona O’Fegan said that the network is ideally placed to ensure that people have the option of person-to-person offline access to vital services.

Said Seona: “The IPU supports expanding government services delivered through the network and to provide this, postmasters should receive an annual government retainer payment. This will ensure an infrastructure for communities to access services – and keep hundreds of struggling post offices open.

“Services which can be provided offline include motor tax, licences, renewals, registrations, identity verification, community information, IT/office hub – or advising and helping people to navigate their needs.

“Covid-19 has highlighted that significant numbers of people are not online and have leaned even more on their post office for services, information and advice. A comprehensive service model must be provided for them and the network is ideally placed to deliver it.”

A report commissioned by business advisors Grant Thornton, published in September last year, warned of the need for action to be taken before June this year as the network faces ‘unrestrained closures’ after that point.

The analysis recommended that an annual Public Service Obligation (PSO) of €17 million be introduced for the network, which it said would represent a value for money investment for the state.

IPU president Seán Martin said: “The way to deliver on what Grant Thornton has recommended is to expand the role of post offices in providing state services, including all offline options, together with a state retainer payment to the value set out.

“Now is the time for government to act before transformation payments, agreed with postmasters in 2018, end in June. We know that many post offices are now contemplating closure and later in the year will be too late for many communities. Our post offices are too valuable to lose and this opportunity should be taken now.”

Independent research carried out by RED C last year found that 91% of people said their post office provided a valuable service to the local community, 86% support the government providing financial support to keep their post office open, and 86% want more state services available at their post office.

Mr. Martin continued: “The IPU is calling on the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Ministers Eamon Ryan and Hildegarde Naughton to work with postmasters and retain the network. The post office network can be a pillar part of an inclusive future for citizens.”

Post offices are run by postmasters who are independent providers of the network under contract to An Post. There are currently 891 postmaster and 45 An Post-operated post offices in the country.

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