Friday, 18 July 2008

Our post office stays open

Some little while ago we were told which of the post offices in Devon it was proposed to close, this week it has been the turn of Cornwall. I am very pleased to say that our post office here in Gunnislake is not on the hit list but this joy has been tempered by the news that the one up the road at Albaston will be lost. This last named is a wonderful shop cum post office of the sort so typical of our small villages, it's one failing is being too geographically close to other POs at Gunnislake, Calstock and St Ann's Chapel.

The whole question of post office closures is a very emotive one and I am now going to try and put personal prejudice aside and be totally objective. First of all it has to be accepted that using the post office is an expensive alternative for certain operations. This is nothing to do with the splendid postmasters and postmistresses in our communities, it is purely down to modern technology. For instance payment of pensions direct into a person's bank account has to be a cheaper alternative than through any system involving the post office. And using that example the cost of distributing the national pension falls on everyone eventually, the bigger the outlay here if you like the less spent on the NHS or whatever.

Of course there are always some "buts". In a great many villages the village shop and post office share the same premises, lose either one and the other is liable to go. What irks me is the failure of our leaders to understand how small villages work and what holds small communities together. As an example this urban-centric government made an appalling mess when the licensing laws were radically changed and village halls for instance were confronted by a load of unnecessary bureaucracy for that very rare occasion when alcohol would be served. I accept that trying to run a country to cater for on the one hand the Surrey stockbroker and on the other the chap on the Scillies eking out a living catching crabs is an extraordinarily difficult one. If only ministers would make an effort in seeing how the country works at the sharp end though it would help, they really need to get out more. Don't be surprised if I return to this theme again by the way as it is one of my hobby horses.

Then there is the business of reducing our carbon footprints. A villager might run a small business requiring him or her to post parcels on a regular basis. If the post office is in the village that's fine but it's not so clever if there is a round car trip of six miles. On this particular aspect I read a very interesting comment recently, I can't remember where unfortunately, but the writer pointed out how you could purchase your stamps on line effectively (eg if you are selling on ebay). That person then makes use of the post office to dispatch the parcel so there is footfall at the post office without any financial reward for that individual postmaster i.e. no extra turnover in his business. A very interesting point I must say.

There is the matter of the way our post offices have been split from the Royal Mail delivery system from a business aspect but this is a subject I'll come back to on another occasion. Just to say in summary at the moment then that yes I can understand why people use the post office less and carry out transactions on line for instance, but also that the government haven't really taken on board the importance of post offices particularly to those in rural communities.

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