The Herald

Anger over plan to close 19 post offices on islands

Communitie­s concerned at social impact of proposals

- DAVID ROSS HIGHLAND CORRESPOND­ENT david.ross@theherald.co.uk

NINETEEN post offices out of 132 on Scotland’s islands have been earmarked for closure under the latest rationalis­ation plans being proposed by the Post Office in order to meet the UK Government’s target of 2500 closures.

The list contains some of the most remote and rural communitie­s in the land. However, the Post Office insists that 97% of the islands’ population will either see no change to their nearest branch, orwill remain within one mile (by road distance) of an alternativ­e branch.

The official PO justificat­ion also claims that the 19 closures together represent fewer than 700 customer visits in a week.

But island leaders last night argued this totally distorted the true impact on a population officially recognised as having a disproport­ionate number of elderly residents who already f i n d t r ave l difficult.

The Royal Mail spreadshee­ts could not take account of the vital social role played by the small post office; the post-mistress/master who delivers a pension when somebody is ill.

Thirteen of the post offices are to close in the Western Isles (pop 26,300), with 10 on Lewis alone. Four are to go on Orkney (pop 19,590) and two in Shetland (22,000). There will now be a six-week consultati­on period.

In the Western Isles no closure is proposed on Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra or Vatersay.

But Angus Campbell, chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s (Western Isles Council’s) sustainabl­e developmen­t committee, said: “We are very disappoint­ed that the number selected for closure is so high considerin­g the problems these islands already face. Given the age profile of many of these communitie­s selected, it will mean that many elderly people will find it much more difficult to go about their daily business when they have to travel an additional distance. This is a real blow to these communitie­s.”

Angus MacNeil, the islands’ SNP MSP, promised to help any of the communitie­s who wanted to fight to save their post office. “You can’t close 10 post offices on one island without there being a significan­t social impact. I am willing to stand with any community in Lewis, Harris or North Uist who want to fight this.”

Alistair Carmichael, LibDem MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “Clearly for us it could have been an awful lot worse, but there were a couple earmarked for closure that did surprise me. So I am determined that if any of these communitie­s want to save their post office, and we can make a case to save them, then I will support them.”

Sally Buchanan, Post Office Ltd’s Network Developmen­t Manager for Scotland, said the decision to close any Post Office branch was always very difficult and the company was aware of the concern to many customers.

“We want to ensure that everyone who uses, relies on or has any concern with Post Office services is both fully aware of the proposed changes, and able to give views on them,” she said.

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