Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Post offices are vital to our local communities

Small businesses are the backbone of community life in all parts of Wales. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the way in which Post Offices provide a valuable service to communities across Bridgend and the surrounding area.

They not only gave an important focus to life in our towns and villages but also provide a lifeline for the elderly, disabled and those in deprived areas to access their pensions, benefits and other financial transactions.

Last week, I convened a meeting with sub-postmasters in my constituency to hear directly from them the problems that they are facing in keeping their offices open. We are now in the process of formulating a joint action plan which will help us to secure the future viability of post offices in Bridgend.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s policies have been designed to safeguard and develop Post Offices as core community amenities and features. Through the Post Office Development Fund, over £4.1 million in grants have been distributed to 106 post offices – 60% in isolated urban areas and 40% in rural areas – with the primary aim being to prevent the closure of loss making post offices.

Recently announced plans to reform the business rates system in Wales will also play a part in improving the viability of local post offices. The proposals will mean Post Offices with a rateable value under £9,000 will receive 100% and those with a rateable value between £9,000 and £11,999 will receive 50% relief.

The new system will be fairer and easier to understand. Because rateable values tend to be lower in the poorer areas of Wales, the focus of the policy on smaller Post Offices will be of particular benefit to poorer areas, urban or rural.

A major concern for all sub-postmasters is the ending of the Post Office Card Account by the Westminster Government in 2010. They fully understand the need for all the possible options to be explored when spending public funds but, and I fully support them on this, a compromise has to be reached that gives the taxpayer the best deal for their money whilst at the same time taking into account the wider interests of the people who rely on the services that Post Offices provide.

Thriving communities need thriving post offices. They are businesses but they are also, essentially, public services. People can do their bit by using their nearest post office as often as possible to pick up their benefits, purchase stamps and access their high street bank accounts closer to home.

We must do all we can to ensure that locally available post office services are maintained and strengthened. By customers, sub-postmasters and elected representatives working together in partnership, I am confident that we can continue to make progress to achieve this.

(Article first published in the Bridgend & Valleys Recorder)


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