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New National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) general secretary George Thomson has warned that the entire network is in jeopardy unless the government embraces the idea of converting the Post Office into a bank.
Thomson, who replaced long-serving former secretary Colin Baker, is calling for the government to support the move, which was originally proposed in the 2000 Performance and Innovation Unit Report on the Post Office. He believes a universal Post Office Bank offering a full range of banking products would secure the business the network needed to survive.
Thomson made the call in his first days in charge after the NFSP's annual conference in Leicestershire, where trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling faced anxious subpostmasters who had been given the news 2,500 offices would close by early 2009.
Thomson told Convenience Store: "We need to get the government to support the idea of a Post Office Bank. If this doesn't happen it's likely we'll be facing more closures in a few years' time. That could see the network drop below 10,000, which wouldn't be sustainable.
"A conversion would guarantee more business and bring in a full range of banking products for customers. Even after the closures, the existing business is not enough to make the network sustainable. The only successful Post Offices in the world are those which have a bank. We just need politicians to have the guts to back the idea."
The proposal received the backing of subpostmasters attending the conference, including Hemandra Hindoca, who owns West Cotes Post Office and Store in Leicester. "Something needs to be done," he said. "The closures are like a sword hanging over our heads. It would bring in new customers and help secure the future after the closures. There used to be three banks and a building society here but they've all closed. The Post Office could fill that vacuum."
Confirming the closure plans to the House of Commons, Alistair Darling announced a £1.5bn government investment in the Post Office up to 2011, including an annual subsidy of £150m.
The Post Office is to draw up closure plans for the 2,500 post offices to be shut by early 2009.
Convenience Store readers have been commenting on the issue of post office closures
"We are five months further down the line and thousands of sub-postmasters still have no idea what the future holds. This is not just my job - it is my home, my work and my life, not to mention that of my husband, staff and customers. No more delays; no more waiting to find out if it is you or your neighbour. The Post Office needs to move swiftly and put us out of our misery. That way, we might all be able to sleep at night."
"We have waited almost 18 months since the first announcement regarding PO Card Accounts and have been unable to make any plans to either save it or sell it - who would buy a post office at the moment? Someone must know which POs are to close, or how else does PO Ltd know the savings can be achieved?"
"First pensioners were conned into giving up their pension books, then TV stamps were discontinued, and sale of TV licences was stopped. Now we're being persuaded to obtain these online. The local PO is essential in rural areas, which this government has no time for."
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