Subpostmasters rounded on trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling as he addressed delegates at the National Federation of Sub Postmasters' conference in Leicestershire. Rich Airey reports

There was a frustrated yet determined atmosphere at the National Federation of Subpostmasters' (NFSP) annual conference, at which trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling was 'guest of honour' and the main topic up for discussion was the fallout from the government's latest closures decision.
The conference also represented a changing of the guard as long-serving general secretary Colin Baker was replaced by George Thomson. Thomson, whose family own a Spar store and post office in the town of Tranent, East Lothian, set out his stall early when he told Convenience Store he believed the network's future could be secured if government supported the idea of the Post Office becoming a bank.
Thomson also said that he believed most subpostmasters recognised the 2,500 closures had to be a first step, which must be followed up with new business. But he believed the way forward was for the government to revisit a previous recommendation to convert the Post Office into a bank.
This may well be a solution, but of more pressing concern to individual subpostmasters was whether their office would be one of the thousands about to feel the axe, and how the promised £1.6bn would be spent.
While Darling received some credit for turning up to defend the government's position, his responses to many questions from the floor were labelled by many as being those of a 'typical politician'.
He told delegates: "We need to see what more we can do to make sure we maintain a national network of subpostmasters. Be in no doubt, we need a national network."
He continued: "If we had simply looked at the network commercially, we'd be down to about 4,000 post offices by now. I don't expect to receive three hefty cheers for what we are doing, but we are doing all we can to help. I hope that the Post Office will be able to come forward with a timetable by July. I don't know of any way of doing this more quickly."
Darling's words were of no comfort for Bhavna Desai, of Newtown Post Office and Store in Swinton, Manchester. She told Convenience Store: "The government has promised £1.6bn, but there's been no real breakdown as to where it's going to be spent. We've been told crown office refurbishment is going to be paid for out of this money, but all we've got out of it so far is the closures. Every sub post office is under threat and we'll be in the same situation after the closures unless we're given new business."
Edinburgh subpostmaster Bill Robertson agreed: "We've received no real answers. The government assures us it is looking for the answer that will secure the network but it should have found one by now. Further delays can only damage the future of the network."
Subpostmaster Jane Full from Truro, Cornwall, summed up opinion when she said: "It's mental torture."