28 June 2000

Among the plans floated today for the future of Britain's Post Office is the transformation of its 18,500 counters network into banks, internet shopping centres and delivery depots. The proposal forms part of a government report into the future of the Post Office, to be published today by chief trade and industry minister Stephen Byers.

He is expected to confirm that substantial government subsidies will be available for modernisation of the service. Some of the subsidy will be used to install a computer network in post offices, enabling them to act as internet centres and online focal points for advice on government services such as benefits, job vacancies, health and transport. Rural branches could become delivery points for goods purchased through the internet.

The development of internet services - which could even see post offices establishing variants of the internet café concept – is a key recommendation of the of the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit report. It puts forward a number of ways in which post offices - especially those in rural areas - can modernise their services. The Post Office has contracted with retail banks to offer basic banking services in less populated areas and is planning to deploy 3,000 cash machines across its network.

Secretary Byers will hype the recommendations as a blueprint for the salvation of Britain's rural post office network, the future of which was undermined by the government's decision to automate state pension and benefits payments direct to claimants' banks accounts – a move that will deprive up to 8,000 post offices of some 40% of their income.

News source: Financial Times