Owning and operating a post office couldn’t be any harder. The ongoing high street decline and the difficult retail environment over the past 12 months have hit subpostmasters hard, and it has never been tougher to make ends meet.
We recently conducted a national survey of our membership, and found that more than one in five post offices could disappear in the coming year as self-employed subpostmasters struggle to earn a living amid lower incomes, higher costs, and falling customer demand. In our survey, we spoke with 1,000 members who operate independent post offices, and found that 22 per cent are planning to close, hand on, or downsize their business this year as they go without holidays and take on extra jobs to scrape by.
The impact of these closures would be felt nationally. Collectively, subpostmasters are significant employers and major contributors to local economies across the UK. We play a vital role in every community that we serve: as well as providing essential postal services, we are a key way for businesses and consumers to access banking services.
For many subpostmasters, our businesses are a family affair. My wife and I have run our post office in Scotland for over 23 years. Our priority has always been to serve our local community and provide them with the amenities that they need. But it is not just rural post offices feeling the strain. Many offices in London and other cities are also struggling due to further competition, business rates, and a substantial increase in running costs.
The government-owned Post Office Ltd controls the products and services that subpostmasters sell, and the rates of payment received for these. Of course, in recent years, the retail and banking markets have been completely overturned by the internet, so if we don’t adapt, we risk being left behind. I don’t believe that it will serve anyone well to descend into a “them versus us” fight with Post Office Ltd – but they must listen to what subpostmasters around the country are saying, and we must work together to improve our customer offer, ensuring a good service and repeat business.
My organisation provides subpostmasters with hands-on business support, as well as representation in our dealings with the government and Post Office Ltd. But there is more that we do – and more to be done still.
The stresses of running a family business can impact on physical and mental health, and historically there has been little help for those struggling in our industry. We are changing that by supporting subpostmasters and their businesses holistically in order to help keep them at the heart of the communities that they serve.
What can readers do to help? It’s a cliche, but there is a phrase “use it or lose it”. You can help by using your local post office more often. Has your local bank branch closed? You can carry out everyday business and personal banking transactions at your post office. Also, if you are worried about your local post office closing, write to your MP and raise your concerns.