The Rural Services Network calls upon an incoming Government to:
- Commit that there will be no programme of post office closures during the lifetime of the 2015 to 2020 Parliament and the access measures for the post office network will be maintained. Statistical access measures are inevitably quite crude, so it is important the Post Office identifies and seeks to plug geographic gaps in its network.
- Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Post Office Locals model, to identify where improvements could be made to address customer needs. This should test the long-term viability of the approach, since it makes the income of post offices entirely based on their sales and does away with the fixed core payment.
- Do more to invest in the future of Community Post Offices, which are typically the last shop in the village. View this extensive rural network as an opportunity for government and public service delivery. Establish a Post Bank, owned by the Post Office, to offer a full range of banking services through its network.
- Encourage the public sector to look to local rural retailers and outlets to improve access to their services. Examples include library drop-off points and prescription pick-up points within village shops. Anyone living more than five miles from a dispensing chemist should be offered some nearer or alternate means of collection.
- Support and uphold Local Plan policies and Neighbourhood Plan policies which seek to retain vital village services and facilities by placing restrictions on their permitted change of use e.g. into residential.
- Uphold the Royal Mail USO and introduce measures that stop blatant cherry picking by other postal operators, to the detriment of rural customers.
- Review experience to-date with the Community Right to Bid, to assess how well it has worked and whether improvements can be made.
- Analyse information about pub closures and the underlying reasons. If this indicates a problem with leasehold and tenancy arrangements, initiate a review in order to address the concerns. Research new and innovative financial approaches that could sustain pubs.
- Seek to enhance the support and seedcorn funding that is available to communities, including from the National Lottery. The Village SOS learning programme, which gives £1.4 million over two years to the ACRE Network, is a helpful start. Funding needs to provide both direct project grants to rural communities, and grants to bodies or networks which can advise and support communities with their endeavours.
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