Essex County Council is to be applauded for its investigation into taking over local Post Offices that are at risk of closure – but are they making the right decisions for their local tax payers? They are running a conference on the topic (the “Essex Model”) on 23 October 2008 to present and debate the opportunity and challenges of such an approach.
Local Authorities face a difficult decision – politically, keeping local PO’s open for the benefit of their citizens (and potentially delivering some face-to-face council services) – or providing the most economic use of tax-payers’ funds.
Very firmly, my own opinion is that local authorities’ take-over of Post Offices will only delay the inevitable closure of such establishments – it may win votes from older voters in local elections – but in time, as more and more citizens rely on electronic communications with their councils, tax payers will look for local authorities to reduce their exposure to expensive delivery channels that remain unused by the majority of their electorate. (It must be remembered that the Post Office is closing local Post Offices that are currently under-utilised, and as such are not commercially viable).
There is an argument that local authorities should take every opportunity to move delivery channels for their own services, as much as possible, into efficient, electronic methods – and that widening the face-to-face delivery channel delays citizens moving from the inefficient to the efficient delivery channels. Also, will local tax-payers welcome their local taxes being used, effectively, to subsidise the Post Office?
Yes – local PO’s do have a social element to their existence – and they will be sorely missed, primarily by pensioners and the less well-off – but in time their closure is inevitable – and I believe that tax-payers’ money should not be poured into ventures that have already proved they are commercially unviable.