Post office branches have more than halved during the last 20 years across the north and north-east amid a wave of closures, fresh figures have revealed.
In 2000 there were 571 counters with a full-time presence across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Highlands and the islands.
That total has now reduced to just 278 as premises have been closed across the north.
Post office closures have been described as having a “devastating” impact on rural communities.
However, the Post Office has stressed that part-time outreach services are often installed in the event of a closure – citing alternative statistics that show a decline of just 30 to 1,373 Scottish branches, once outreach counters are included, between 2016 and 2020.
Where have the post office closures been?
What is causing the closures?
Post office closures in some rural villages have been a result of the final shop in some communities closing their doors.
Some have even been linked to fires or floods.
However, others are due to the retirement of postmasters when a replacement cannot be found.
In some cases, the closures can be temporary for either short or extended periods.
Last year, Mosstodloch in Moray welcomed back its village post office after a “temporary” closure spanning 10 years after the retirement of the previous incumbent.
The Post Office has stressed that whenever a closure occurs its teams with communities to try and establish an alternative.
A spokesman said: “Our outreach branches in villages, on islands and in the Highlands enable people to do their everyday banking, send their letters and parcels and purchase stamps.
“This number of branches has remained stable for the past five years.
“Whilst banks continue to close branches, post offices are often the last counter in town.
“In July, £217million was deposited and withdrawn my personal and business customers at Post Office branches across Scotland.
“Millions of people continue to rely on the Post Office to deposit and withdraw their cash which can be done securely and in-person at branches across Scotland.”
What is the reaction to post office closures?
Post office closures often attract concern from communities and elected representatives.
Branches in rural areas can on occasion be the last remaining shop in a village.
However, the services were also described as a “lifeline” when a wave of city branches in Aberdeen were announced in June.
North-East MSP Douglas Lumsden described the trend of closures across the north and north-east as “extremely concerning”.
He said: “These closures have escalated across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire in recent times, having a devastating impact on communities.
“I have previously written to the Post Office demanding an urgent review of its business arrangements before the north-east is left with only a handful of branches.
“It’s vital the Post Office doesn’t turn its back on residents, especially the most vulnerable in our communities who rely on its services on a day-to-day basis.”
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Maree Todd said: “After years of underfunding and endless restructuring by successive Westminster governments, the eventual break up and sell-off of our postal services has caused huge harm to northern communities.
“Post offices were at the heart of rural life – providing vital services close to home and their closure is keenly felt in many Highland villages.
“It’s hard to believe that a Liberal Democrat minister played such a strong role in this sorry episode.
“Vince Cable famously undersold the Royal Mail – transferring approximately £1billion of public money to private investors and leading to many branch closures and job losses which continue to this day.”