Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee's Post Office Network inquiry - Citizens Advice response to call for evidence
The select committee inquiry comes at an important time for the future of the post office network, which recently completed its biggest ever restructure programme. During the Network Transformation Programme (NTP), which took place between 2012 and 2018, over 7,500 traditional sub-post offices, 2 in 3 branches, moved to new operating models - Post Office Locals and Post Office Mains. Broadly the programme achieved its objectives of placing the network on a more stable footing and maintaining a size of at least 11,500 post offices.
Crown post offices, the biggest town and city centre post branches directly operated by Post Office Ltd (POL), have also undergone significant changes with many franchised to retailers such as WH Smith. In the last 10 years there has been just under a 50% reduction in the Crown network.
Consumers value post offices and they continue to play an important role in providing essential services and supporting local communities. However, post offices are operating in a challenging environment. Much of their traditional core business has been eroded as letter volumes have declined and the administration of essential and government services have increasingly moved online.
Sub-postmasters also face challenges when it comes to the level of remuneration they receive for the services they provide, business rates and growing staffing costs. This is a particular concern in the context of the Government’s ambition for POL to operate without subsidy in the future.
There are opportunities for post offices to overcome these challenges. For example, parcel volumes are increasing and there is the potential for post offices to play a greater role in providing basic banking services in the context of bank branch closures. There are also opportunities for them to expand the social role they play in local communities, for example by providing homeless people with a secure, reliable way to access their post.
However questions remain about how post offices can play a social, as well as a commercial, role that is sustainable for the future in a challenging economic environment whilst maintaining consumer access to high quality services.