The Northern Ireland Executive has been called on to offer more government services through the Post Office network.

In a report by Consumer Focus Post, the postal consumer watchdog in Northern Ireland, the government has been urged to identify which services could be offered through the network, especially given the impending reduction of the number of local councils from 26 to 11.

Consumer Focus Post head of policy Kellin McCloskey said the move would benefit all parties.

“Making the Post Office network the front office for government services could deliver benefits for both consumers and government,” she said. “In this increasingly digital age post offices can help bridge the ‘digital divide’ between the government and consumers who can’t, or don’t want to, access services online. This is particularly important in providing essential support for more vulnerable consumers and those without access to the internet.”

National Federation of SubPostmasters Northern Ireland president Michael McArdle said the network was the perfect outlet to offer government services. “Post offices occupy a unique and trusted place in the heart of urban and rural communities alike across Northern Ireland; and allowing access to more services from the NI Executive and local councils will help give our post offices a more sustainable future, and make life easier for the public,” he said.

Northern Ireland Independent Retailers Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts urged the government to act on the report’s findings.

“Post offices are an absolutely invaluable footfall driver for local shops and play a vital role as a hub in local communities in many parts of Northern Ireland,” he said. “If the Northern Ireland Executive and local councils are serious about the future of our Post Office network then they should give very serious consideration to the findings of this report which calls for more services to be given to local post offices. Giving our post offices a greater role in providing government services and information is the best way to invest in the future of the network.”