THOUSANDS of Post Office branches will be modernised as part of a £1.34 billion government pledge to avoid another round of closures.
The largest investment programme in Post Office history will see 6,000 branches converted into more modern outlets over next three years.
Some 2000 branches – many of them rural – will be turned into Post Office Local branches, with the majority relocated into new premises.
The remaining 4000 branches will be converted to Post Office Mains, some of which will be relocated to other premises, such as a high street shop.
Post Office Locals will typically be located in convenience stores, such as village shops. Other outlets may include petrol stations or village pubs.
The investment programme is designed to make the Post Office network more self-sustaining and eventually less dependant on direct subsidies.
The UK-wide roll-out of up to 4,000 main and around 2,000 local branches is expected to start this summer and conclude in 2015.
The Post Office claims the investment will provide a more convenient customer experience while maintaining network at its current size.
The 5,500 branches, which will not become local or main branches, will retain their current operating model and be supported by subsidy payments/
Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells described the investment programme as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity".
She added: "This major investment will help Post Office Ltd address changing customer needs by revitalising the network."
Postal affairs minister Norman Lamb said post office branches were at the heart of many of our communities, providing much needed services.
"The new models will make the network more financially viable and give customers what they want when they want it."
Consumer watchdog Consumer Focus said the Post Office network must be put on a firm footing if it was to serve the communities who relied on it.
Consumer Focus chief executive Mike O'Connor said: "Many post offices are economically unsustainable and the network as a whole needs improvement."
He added: 'The scale of the task is considerable, and it is both an enormous opportunity and challenge for Post Office Limited.
"These huge changes will affect over half the post offices in the country and the people who use them.
"What will matter to customers is that this programme delivers improvements and provides a sustainable and accessible local network which meets their needs.'
Consumer Focus would work with Post Office Limited to make sure consumers' needs were at the heart of the programme, said Mr O'Connor.
In 2000, Post Office Ltd had around 28 million customer visits each week. This now stands at around 20 million.
As a result, at present, a significant part of the UK branch network benefits from a subsidy payment to sustain services to communities.
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