Worry over rural post offices

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There are reports that the Government has back-tracked on a pledge to hold public consultation over the future funding of 8,500 rural post offices before a deadline this spring on what to do about them, reported yesterday's Independent on Sunday.

The Government has spent £150 million a year since 2003 supporting rural branches. The payments, however, are due to stop in April 2008, at the end of a two-year notice period. There had been promises to Postwatch, a consumer watchdog, and the charity Age Concern that a "full and public" consultation would be held ahead of the two-year notice period. A senior source at Royal Mail has said that there has been a change of mind by Government and there are no longer plans to hold a consultation before the April deadline. The DTI insisted a consultation would still go ahead but was unable to say when.

Post offices have suffered because of the way state benefits are paid directly to bank accounts. Asking for benefits to paid via the post office is an important way to maintain a vital local service. Royal Mail has already closed 3,500 branches in recent years.


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