‘Day of reckoning’ has arrived for post office network, postmasters say

Oireachtas committee told that operators of outlets facing a cliff edge from end of June

The day of reckoning has arrived for the post office network and the Government needs to act quickly and put in place a financial intervention by the end of June, postmasters have told an Oireachtas committee. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

The day of reckoning has arrived for the post office network and the Government needs to act quickly and put in place a financial intervention by the end of June, postmasters have told an Oireachtas committee. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

The day of reckoning has arrived for the post office network and the Government needs to act quickly and put in place a financial intervention by the end of June, postmasters have told an Oireachtas committee.

In an opening statement submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks ahead of a hearing on Tuesday, the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) said there was “a cliff-face in front of the post office network coming at the end of June”.

It said decisions had to be made and actions taken by Government before then, noting a report it commissioned from consultants Grant Thornton which last autumn warned of “unrestrained post office closures” after June.

The report pointed to problems reaching crisis point by that point as new contract payments paid by An Post to postmasters came to an end.

In its submission to the committee, the IPU said: “Transformation payments agreed with An Post in 2018 were on the assumption, that by 2021, there would be a range of ‘new’ Government services made available to support the network. However, none of these services have yet materialised.”

Promises

The IPU said the challenge was that while new services were promised since 2018, the Government was only now seriously examining the issue. It said

Minister of State for Postal Services Hildegarde Naughton announced the establishment last week of an inter-departmental group to examine how more Government business could be directed to the post office network. However, the IPU said this had come “too late”.

The IPU said Grant Thornton had recommended that the Government introduce annual public service obligation (PSO) funding of €17million. It said this would represent value for money for the State and provide a return of between €334 million and €776 million.

“The IPU believes that a PSO should be in the form of annual Government retainer payment to be put in place from this summer with a commitment among all parties (Government, An Post and postmasters) to expand the range of Government services provided.”

Ready and willing

It said postmasters were ready, willing and able to provide many additional services with immediate effect. It said previous expert reports had suggested these could include motor tax, licence renewals, registrations, identity verification, community information, IT/office hubs.

The IPU said the post office network currently employed more than 1,400 people, served 1.3 million customers per week, processed 30 million Department of Social Protection transactions per year and represented a “fraud deterrent”.

Post offices are run by postmasters who are independent providers under contract to An Post. There are about 900 postmaster and 45 An Post-operated post offices in the country.