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Post Office closures: MPs hear concerns over rural access to banking services

The Post Office says it is committed to replacing closed branches
The Post Office says it is committed to replacing closed branches

A senior Post Office manager insisted the group always looks to replace branches which have closed down, after 200 shut in the UK in two years.

Banking director Martin Kearsley made the comments while being grilled by MPs on closures and their impact on access to money and other services.

In the last two years, the UK has lost the equivalent of two post offices every week.

That’s despite monthly cash deposits and withdrawals topping £3 billion for the first time in December 2021.

Branch closures across Scotland

Many of the recently closed branches are in rural areas.

In June 2021 it was announced six branches in Fife were to close – Thornton, East Wemyss, Balmullo, Ladybank, Newport-on-Tay and St Andrews, as well as Perthshire branches Luncarty and Stanley, and the Menzieshill branch in Dundee.

Last year also saw the closure of the Seaton, Torry, Kincorth, Clifton Road and Northfield post office counters in Aberdeen and the Bridgend branch in Perth.

In August it was revealed post office numbers in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Highlands and Islands had halved in 20 years.

Most recently, the post office branch in Inverurie closed at the end of January 2022.

Post office network ‘vital’

Mr Kearsley admitted more and more people will become reliant on the Post Office to withdraw and deposit cash as the trend of bank closures continues.

He highlighted the recent appointment of a new post master in Kingussie, who has been “extremely busy” since reopening at the start of February 2022.

Mr Kearsley said: “It is more likely rural communities and urban-deprived communities will be left potentially without a bank in the coming years.

“That is why the post office network is so vital and we want legislation that cash has to be protected in these communities.

“We would turn our attention every time there is a closure to finding a suitable replacement.

“If it looks like that is a long time coming we would look at temporary van services that can visit so the community continues to have access to post office services.”

We need to be commercially viable.

– Martin Kearsley, Post Office

Wendy Chamberlain, MP for North East Fife, highlighted the recent closure of four branches in her constituency, asking how long these communities are likely to be left without.

Mr Kearsley replied to say branch closures were deemed “temporary” not because of the amount of time that has passed, but whether or not the Post Office was actively seeking a replacement.

He added the Post Office is still continuing to try and replace all four North East Fife branches, and told Ms Chamberlain it was “tremendous news” a new post office branch will be opening soon in Balintore, some 170 miles away from her constituency.

Some remote residents will not be served

Mr Kearsley also conceded there will be some people living in the most remote parts of Scotland who will simply not be covered by post office services.

The committee was told the Post Office missed its target for postcodes where 95% of the population was within six miles of a branch.

He said: “There will be some people where we can’t fit them in.

“We need to be commercially viable and some live in extremes which is challenging – but we try our hardest and we are committed to running a sustainable network where we can.”

He said there are many loss-making branches which are subsidised so they can stay open, but doing this in every single location becomes “very uneconomical very quickly”.

Permanent post office to open in small Highland community of Balintore

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