Thursday, March 22, 2007

Put your money where your mouth is

Put your money where your mouth is and support local post offices"

That is the message from Aberconwy Conservatives. Last week, we demonstrated our commitment to post offices across the region by directly buying stamps for our Assembly election campaign from their local network.

We decided that instead of using the cheaper mass delivery Mailsort option organised outside the region by the Royal Mail and used by other political parties, a decision was made to buy all stamps locally for the campaign. Last week, I visited post offices across the constituency - from Dolwyddelan to Deganwy - buying over 10,000 stamps in the process. I am pictured above with Karen Crocker, sub postmistress at Morfa Post Office in Conwy.

We all have a vital role to play in ensuring that our local post offices remain open. Clearly, it would have been far cheaper and easier to go use the central delivery service provided by the Royal Mail. Instead of just moaning about the issue, we decided to actually do something about supporting our local post offices. Whilst only a small gesture, it shows that we can all do a little bit more in supporting our local post office.

One postmaster gave us an example of a local business which had been approached by a various delivery services and, although the option was slightly cheaper, he felt it was part of his civic duty to buy his stamps from his local post office and support the local community. This is an example that we all should follow where possible.

Whilst it is important that local people continue to back their local post offices, there is more that can be done by the Welsh Assembly Government in ensuring that more government services – the lifeblood of any post office network – are delivered through the network.

The Welsh Conservatives have already suggested that the Assembly Government should be taking proactive and imaginative steps to ensure that post offices in Wales remain at the heart of our communities.

Speaking to postmasters across the constituency, it is clear that the removal of different services by the UK Government has plunged many into crisis. Many people want to have the option of paying their bills through their local post office and yet this choice is being taken away from them, with private and public sector organisations forcing them down the direct debit route. For an increasing number of people, particularly the elderly and most vulnerable in our society, this is completely inappropriate and only adds to the problems of isolation in our communities.

Forcing all pensioners to open bank accounts to receive their pensions was successfully resisted by the Conservatives in Parliament - the Post Office Card Account is now available to those who don't want to use a bank account. This has helped keep sub post offices open at a time when other services are being hived off and made inaccessible to residents who don't drive - many of whom are elderly.

However, more needs to be done and the Welsh Conservatives believe that the Assembly should make it an immediate priority to set up a task force to examine how more local council and Assembly services can be managed and run through the local post office network in Wales, and to examine how more individuals and businesses can be encouraged to pay for their services via this system.

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