The Coalition Government has announced its intention to ensure that post offices remain a “valuable social and economic asset for communities and businesses”. A Policy Statement published in November 2010 confirmed that there will be no programme of post office closures under this Government and £1.34 billion will be provided to modernise the network of around 11,500 Post Office branches and safeguard its future.
Minister for Postal Affairs Edward Davey said:
“We’re determined to turn the Post Office network around and end the years of decline. The Post Office is a tremendous national asset. It will not be for sale and there will be no programme of closures.
“To underline our commitment we have announced £1.34 billion of funding over the next four years. The money will put the Post Office on a stable financial footing. It will help modernise the network and make it even more appealing to customers.”
These announcements provided encouraging news for post office operators, around 97% of whom are independent business people. Christie + Co, the leading business agents and advisors, reported a 20% increase in the number of post office businesses sold in 2010 compared with the previous year and they predict that more sites are likely to change hands in the coming months.
Tony Evans, Head of Retail at Christie + Co, says: “Post office businesses have faced considerable uncertainty over the last few years with operators concerned about the threat of branch closures and the potential withdrawal of certain services. This uncertainty caused hesitancy in the transactional market, with a reduction in the number of post office businesses changing hands.
“Fortunately, the sector has recovered well from confidence dips in the past. We witnessed increases in buyer interest at the conclusion of the Network Change Programme in 2008 and also when the tender process for the Post Office Card Account (POCA) was cancelled later the same year.
“The Government’s announcements about the future of the network provide some clarity for independent operators and will help restore buyer confidence. There are already signs to suggest that post office business opportunities are becoming increasingly popular, with an increase in viewings and general enquiries from potential buyers.”
The policy statement also confirmed that the Government wants to expand Post Office services and become a “Front Office” for Government at the national and local level. Ideas under consideration include document verification for Pension Service customers and support to Jobcentre Plus in the National Insurance Number application process. The Government is also keen for the Post Office to expand further into financial services.
Tony concludes: “Post offices continue to play a key role in community life — particularly those where a post office counter is housed in a convenience store or newsagents, which offers the local community a range of products. The introduction of an increasingly broad range of services should help independent operators to increase customer numbers and drive retail sales. We have completed a number of post office-related deals over the last 12 months, and expect this positive trend to continue throughout 2011.”