Calls have been made for extra support for post offices across the north-east that have been left to plug the gap left by bank closures.
Customers have turned to the stores for cash and banking facilities following a wave of branches being shut in recent years by Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale.
Branches in Nairn, Beauly, Inveraray, Kyle, Tongue, Grantown, Banff, Turriff, Nairn, Dyce, Bridge of Don, Ellon, Huntly, Stonehaven have all closed – with others, such as Lossiemouth and Keith, facing the axe
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However, despite the growing importance of the stores the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) says that payments to its members was cut by £17million this year following a £27million decrease last year.
Now warnings have been made that the stores may not be able to continue to “pick up the slack” caused by bank closures without more support.
A new income tax relief system was developed by the NFSP in conjunction with HMRC and the Post Office this month to allow sub-postmasters to retain more of their income without having to reclaim it.
But representatives are still pushing for financial aid to help support them while providing a greater range of services.
Paul McBain, who runs post offices in Forres and Keith, said: “Running a post office is a responsibility and although we are paid for it, in terms of social isolation there is a lot of work that we do that adds a burden in terms of time.
“Postmasters are self-employed but many have to employ staff and incur costs and overheads just like any other business.”
The Bank of Scotland branch in Keith is due to close in May next year. The firm stressed the close proximity of post office facilities to the site when it announced its decision – but has also committed to introducing a mobile service to the town.
Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “Post officers are expecting to become busier as a source of cash and services for local communities.
“I understand their concerns that government must recognise that they cannot pick up the slack of all the work without some kind of recompense, which will enable them to offer the best possible service to communities.
“Ensuring banking service continue to be provided on our high streets is vital, not just for businesses, but also for residents and post offices have a role to play in this.”