Fears for future of 400 post offices

Failure to renew An Post’s contract for social welfare payments in the coming weeks could lead to the immediate closure of 400 post offices and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

The contract is currently out to tender, with the Department of Social Protection expected to make a decision on a new two-year contract in the coming weeks.

While An Post is confident of having its contract renewed for the next 24 months, there is more concern over the long term; with the Government set to put a more permanent tender out in June, as it hopes to switch social welfare payments to an electronic transaction platform.

The Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) — which acts for the 1,100 or so post office managers around the country — has raised the above concern and will be tackling Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte on this and other matters at its annual conference in Killiney over the weekend.

The IPU is calling on the Government to drive more business through the post office network, where logical. Last year, a study by Grant Thornton — commissioned by the IPU — found the allowance of additional transaction services — such as motor tax payments, banking transactions, hospital fees and household charges — would save the taxpayer around €85m a year.

The ability for people to renew their motor tax in the post office, according to the report, would save the taxpayer nearly €61m per annum, alone.

The IPU recently urged Bank of Ireland to mirror its partnership with the British Post Office, by offering similar over-the- counter banking services via An Post’s network here; something both AIB and Danske Bank are doing. However, the bank has said it is unlikely to do so here.

While that may not be a runner, the IPU feels there is plenty of scope for improved transactional services for the An Post network and has been angered that post offices have not been included in the Government’s financial inclusion strategy.

While the union has welcomed the positive feedback by many at Government level, Brian McGann, IPU general secretary, has expressed his disappointment at nothing concrete having been done as yet.

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