Our post offices and sub post office branches are an important part of our high street scene. There have been vigorous campaigns to keep local branches open.
So I was reassured when the Coalition Government was able to say that the 11,500 Post Office branches are not up for sale. No further programme of closures will be carried out.
There are possibilities that the Post Office structure could be adapted to a mutual or co-operative structure. Two of the models given are the Co-operative Group or the John Lewis Partnership. Employees, sub post masters and, indeed, local communities could take up the ownership and running of the Post Office.
Given the challenges of the communications market, reform of the Royal Mail has become imperative. Letters themselves are in decline as the means of communication have expanded to include email and other electronic links. Royal Mail itself says that in the last financial year (2009-10), the volume of letters declined by 7%.
Constituency Members of Parliament like me probably do not have such a personal sense of that decline because the vans, mailbags and packets of letters roll into the Palace of Westminster and into our constituency bases every day – although of course the electronic mailboxes have expanded enormously, too.
Postal services were reviewed in 2008 in the Richard Hooper report (updated this summer). Mr Hooper referred to the Royal Mail as “an icon for the older generation” but he did point out that people are turning to email and mobile communications, which, to be fair, is not solely confined to the younger age groups.
The commitment to the universal postal service remains, with new regulatory protection, alongside the reform and restructuring of the Royal Mail business.