While hailing the retention of the Post Office Card Account (POCA) as a victory for common sense, federation bosses have also expressed deep regret that around 2,500 post offices will close, despite the fact this number falls short of some previous predictions.
The announcement, delivered by trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling, also saw the £150m a year Social Network Payment for rural post Offices, which was due to end in 2008, extended until 2011.
The decision to allow customers to continue to claim their pensions and benefits at post offices follows a mass lobby of Parliament in October when an NFSP petition signed by four million people was presented to Downing Street. It signals a reversal of original plans announced in January 2006 to end POCA by 2010.
A consultation seeking views on the Government’s proposals has been opened. Responses will be received until March 8 2007. The NFSP has vowed to work closely with the Government to ensure commitments made are met.
NFSP general secretary Colin Baker spoke immediately after the announcement. He said: “The package announced by the Government today goes some way to creating the conditions which can, over time, create a viable network. We warmly welcome the decision to retain the card account and the Social Network Payment as a victory for the nation and for common sense.”
He added: “We bitterly regret the need to accept that some post offices will close and it is a sad indictment that a programme of closures is better than the slow death of the entire network.”
We are however reassured that we have won the recognition for the need for compensation for those subpostmasters forced to close their offices.”