Rural post offices
I know nothing about living in rural areas - I've always lived in towns and when I went to Tolpuddle for the trade union do a couple of years ago I was astonished to find that there wasn't a newsagent or cashpoint in the whole village.
As a result, I am quite sympathetic to the people campaigning against rural post office closures, based on no more than a prejudice in favour of anyone lobbying against a reduction in public services, and the thought that living in a village without a post office must be even more miserable than living in a village with one. However, I read Tim's thoughts on this issue, essentially that getting rid of rural post offices is a good idea, and I wondered whether anyone who was knowledgable about this issue could tell me whether he is roughly right or not. Here's his argument:
"A full network of rural sub post offices (and for that matter suburban ones) are an expensive form of subsidy from all taxpayers and postal service users to those who live in areas with low density housing - that is, people in rich areas with large houses.
Working people are paying for people in suburban and rural areas to have short queues at their underused post offices. East Anglia is hardly a citadel of the revolutionary working classes and of course rich people will squeal when their traditional privileges are taken from them and they stop getting a subsidy from working people. Just look at the fuss being kicked up recently over the revelation that more hospitals in rich areas (Tory & Lib Dem seats) are being considered for closure than hospitals in poorer (Labour) areas.
The ludicrous number of post offices in this country is a result of the era when telegraphs were the main means of rapid communication - the diversity of benefit and banking functions they took on came only later when their network was the obvious way for the government, after the 1906 government and even more so after the Attlee government's creation of the current welfare state system, to go about providing state services in the community.
. 8.5 million out of a total of 10.5 million pensioners now get their State
Pensions paid into a bank account.
. 98 per cent of people making new State Pension claims have chosen to have
it paid directly into their bank, building society or Post Office account.
. An increasing number of people are choosing to renew their tax disc
online. Over 3 million people have renewed their tax disc online so far this
year compared to 860,000 in 2005.
There is a problem for elderly people (and the 2 million and the 2% above are probably disproportionately working class), and that is a problem as the briefing recognizes, but I don't think it should be beyond us to come up with better ways of getting money to old people than rural post offices. Actually it'd be interesting to know where that 2% and where those 2 million
live - I suspect most of them live in big cities. As the government says:
"With its £2 billion investment programme, the Labour Government has demonstrated its commitment to the Post Office. We recognise that there must be continued funding for post offices which play an important social and economic role but can never become commercially viable."
A bit of state intervention in the banking sector to ensure everyone does have a bank account, perhaps a telephone bank account, might be a better idea than worrying too much about closing post offices.
However much I might disagree with EU proposals to liberalize the postal market or Lib Dem nonsense on the subject, I think it's difficult as a socialist to disagree with the basic thrust of what the government is doing to reduce the rural post office network."