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Secure future for post offices

PUBLISHED: 10:30 14 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:47 05 July 2010

A government move that could help safeguard the future of dozens of post offices in Norfolk and Suffolk was met with jubilation yesterday.

MPs cheered as work and pensions secretary James Purnell announced the government was awarding a new contract to the Post Office for a card account used by millions of people to receive benefits and pensions.

A government move that could help safeguard the future of dozens of post offices in Norfolk and Suffolk was met with jubilation yesterday.

MPs cheered as work and pensions secretary James Purnell announced the government was awarding a new contract to the Post Office for a card account used by millions of people to receive benefits and pensions.

The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters said the decision would help save 3,000 post offices across the country from closure. “We're delighted. It's a very good result. The pensions side of the business is important to all post offices and drives a lot of other business,” said John Smith, who runs Rockland St Mary Post Office and is president of the federation's Norwich branch.

He said the Post Office was better equipped to handle the contract, which would run initially from April 2010 to March 2015, than its commercial rivals.

“We have got a far greater number of outlets and we're used to dealing with this type of work. The surprise was the government was even thinking about putting it elsewhere.

“These would have been unplanned closures; you could have been left with whole areas devastated. This should safeguard most, if not all, those branches.”

The federation's general secretary George Thomson said the loss of the contract would have “decimated” the national network, forcing sub-postmasters out of business and reducing vulnerable customers' access to basic financial services.

But the announcement came too late to save the 50 branches in Norfolk and west Suffolk that were among 2,500 outlets nationwide closed this year as part of the Post Office's controversial Network Change programme.

David Dukes, Norfolk County Council's economic development manager, said: “I would like to think that the network we have got would be stabilised over the next few years.”

And Brian Iles, the council's cabinet member for economic development, said: “It looks like common sense has prevailed. Had the card payments been withdrawn, the whole basis for government subsidy would have been undermined.”

Edith Pocock, secretary and president of Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners' Association, said: “This is good news for older people and a step in the right direction.”

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson (Labour), who has campaigned to save local post offices, said: “Post Offices are often the only providers of banking services in local areas so this vote of confidence in the post office is very welcome”.

South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser (Conservative) said: “This announcement will be welcome relief for many of those in South West Norfolk who feared the worst; however, it is long overdue.

“It is disappointing that the government delayed and dithered before making this announcement, prolonging the uncertainty felt by all local sub post masters and their customers.”

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright (Labour) said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Post Office has been awarded the right to continue to provide this service to thousands of my constituents. Not only is it good news for them but also for the future of the Post Office network.”

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