Headlines: February 19th, 2001

The Government is safeguarding its plans for the 18,500 post offices to become one stop government shops by providing funding to help with the costs of relocating and refurbishing rural post offices. The money will help support initiatives by volunteer or community groups to maintain or re-open post office facilities in areas where the traditional post office is closing. It could help in establishing up to 200 community post offices in the UK.In a further move within the Post Office, a new senior role will be created to oversee the network’s interests and look at the options and alternative solutions for avoiding rural closures.

Under plans announced last year postmasters will become Government General Practitioners with a role, similar to a medical GP, by providing a gateway to central and local government services. They will offer low level advice and information on benefits, welfare, council housing, employment and education. They will also assist customers to carry out a range of transactions such as paying council tax. Customers will be able, either with or without the postmaster’s help, to access the Internet and e-commerce services through kiosks in the Post Office.

The Government GP scheme is a key element of the strategy to bridge the digital divide
and prevent a gulf forming between the information rich and the information poor. Some 94% of the population of the UK live with one mile of a post office and of the 28 million people who make 45 million visits to a post office every week, many are elderly and poor. Transforming the post office into a government shop could bring the services of the local council and central departments such as the Benefits Agency to within walking distance of most homes.

A trial of the Government GP scheme will be launched in the summer and it will involve all 287 post office outlets in Leicestershire and Rutland. If the trial demonstrates that the problems of developing the GP concept can be overcome and the public respond, the service will be progressively extended to all the retail outlets. The Government has committed 15 million pounds for the pilot project to fund the technology and provide training for the postmaster and other staff who will be involved.