Food and drug delivery could be among post office services

Three models for survival of network set out in report to be considered by Cabinet

Postmaster Pádraic Ó Conghaile from Connemara protesting against post office closures outside GPO earlier this month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Postmaster Pádraic Ó Conghaile from Connemara protesting against post office closures outside GPO earlier this month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Postmasters may be asked to deliver food, assist businesses with their recycling and drop off medicines in an attempt to ensure survival of the post-office network.

A report prepared for Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring by the Post Office Hub Working Group has examined a number of potential options for the network.

Three clear proposals are outlined, which are shared value and colocation post offices, co-operative post offices and mobile post offices.

The first option suggests a range of new services should be offered at the one location, including collection of motor tax payments, providing document signatures for matters such as driving licence and passports, ICT training and offering expert advice.

The second is the co-op post office, which is used in the United Kingdom, and allows for a range of additional services, including a library, formal meeting rooms, cafes and IT provision to be offered.

The third would only come into play as a last resort and would provide for a mobile post office to offer prescription drops to customers, recycling services for small and medium enterprises, courier drop-off and pick-up and dropping off recycling.

The report said this is used in more remote rural areas and has saved communities from losing their service.

Dispute

The findings will be sent to Cabinet for consideration next week. However, there is a dispute between two Government Ministers over who has responsibility for the network.

Mr Ring told The Irish Times it was his duty to compile the report and bring it to Cabinet.

He said it was now for the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten to decide how to proceed.

The Minister said any support package could only be channelled through Mr Naughten, who, he says, is the shareholder.

However, Mr Naughten has insisted it was the role of Mr Ring and said he had transferred powers to the Fine Gael TD in July.

A spokeswoman for the senior Minister said: “A Cabinet decision was taken in July to transfer the post-office network and broadband to Mr Ring.

“If Mr Ring and the Department of Arts want to reverse that decision, a Cabinet memo will be required.”

The future of the network is at stake, with An Post warning hundreds of offices may have to close to ensure the viability of the company.

The final report will be sent to Cabinet on Tuesday and will recommend that four post offices become shared value offices over the next 12-18 months.

Under this model, suitable post offices would offer a range of services, including scanning, access to broadband and photocopying, among other things.

The working group said this could be extended to 150 locations over 18 months.

The total estimate for the four pilots is €100,000, which will come out of existing department resources.

However, Mr Ring is expected to stress this will not work for every region due to issues such as space constraints.

The Minister will insist the pilot programme is introduced as soon as possible.