No excuse for branch closures

IT is customary, at this time of year, for the Communication Workers Union to issue grim warnings about the number of post offices which might close in the next 12 months.

Under Labour, these predictions were usually true – the last Government treated the network with contempt and 1,000 branches have closed, or been put up for sale, last year.

Yet, even though it is the looming privatisation of the Royal Mail that is driving the CWU's concerns this year, there is no reason for post offices to diminish in such numbers in 2011.

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The reason is a simple one. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats campaigned, vociferously, at a local level against the cuts that Labour presided over. Now that the two parties are in coalition, it would be the ultimate betrayal of trust – a broken promise too far – if their pre-election promises proved to be redundant.

However, it has also become clear, since the coalition's formation, that postmasters, community leaders and others are looking at far more imaginative ways to sustain sub-post offices, particularly here in Yorkshire, and that this spirit of pragmatism needs to be encouraged.

In some respects, the Government should not be expected to come up with an answer for every post office. The best ideas will, invariably, emanate from local communities – and postal bosses should be far more willing to embrace practical suggestions from customers.

Of course, some post offices may no longer prove to be viable because of changing demographics. But, when a branch's future is thrown into doubt, there should be a presumption that it will remain open in some form – and that closure will only be considered as a last resort.

If this does not happen, David Cameron's "big society" will become a meaningless concept.