Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, has just announced the closure of around two and a half thousand UK post offices, mainly in rural locations.
The Minister said that the government wished to restructure the network on a stable economic footing, promising Â£1.7billion to be invested over the next five years. To ensure that 99% of the UK population remains within 3 miles of a Post Office, new mobile Post Offices will be set up, together with more located in shops and community halls.
Though fewer closures than were originally predicted, this is still a blow for thousands of eBayer sellers whose businesses rely on their local POs. eBay selling is often attractive to those living in rural locations where other work is not readily available. To damage business like this hurts not only the individual seller, but the fragile economy of which they are a part. With 5000 closures already over the last four years, many eBayers already have a longer journey to their nearest Post Office. Further closures in rural locations will simply make it unviable to carry on selling on eBay for some.
For others, faced now with long treks to overcrowded town-centre offices, the only option will be collection by Royal Mail instead, or moving to courier delivery, sending ever more revenue away from the Post Office. Just as Lib Dem T&I shadow Malcolm Bruce said in 2004 that “the closure of up to 3000 urban post offices this year will not stop the rot”, today’s actions have just set the stage for a further round of closures in coming years. Unless the government abandons its current schemes moving more and more services out of Post Offices, things can only get worse.
Instead of creating yet another unnecessary barrier to enterprise, the Minister for Trade and Industry should recognise the vital role of small business in the UK economy, and, whether those businesses are eBay traders or rural Postmasters, do so much more to support them.