How many post offices do we need?

The House of Commons rises for the summer recess today to start a 76-day break. Among the many issues with which the Government will have to grapple while MPs are away is the future role, size and funding of the Post Office network. The subject was examined last week by a special hearing of the Trade & Industry Select Committee. Evidence was taken from Adam Crozier, Chief Executive of the Royal Mail Group, and Alan Cook, Chief Executive of Post Office Ltd, a subsidiary of RMG.
Alan Cook indicated that POL’s losses had increased to an expected weekly loss of £4 million this year, against £2 million in the last. Mr Cook and Mr Crozier reiterated that, if the Government wants the network to perform a social role after 2008, it must articulate this role and support it accordingly.
Mr Cook and Mr Crozier again took the opportunity to call for better joined-up thinking in Government and to illustrate the decline in Government services as a proportion of Post Office Ltd’s business. Mr Cook told the Committee that the “commercially optimum network” would contain 4,000 post offices – a reduction of more than 10,000 from the current total.
Nevertheless, Mr Cook reiterated that this was a hypothetical figure, indicating that, if Government support after 2008 was forthcoming, this would allow the shape of the network to remain significantly larger than this hypothetical, purely commercial, figure.
Can we conceive of the closure of 70% of the Post Office network? The social and political impact would be devastating. So how many post offices are we going to retain and how is this network going to be sustained and funded? The relevant Government Committee – Misc 33 – has much work to do this summer.