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It's time to buy a post office

post office

In a leaked letter to Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson once suggested that post offices could benefit from the malaise in the financial sector.

The former business secretary proposed that the great British institution could step in to offer financial products and provide government services.

"We should examine the prospect for it becoming a significant player, offering attractive products within easy reach of the whole population, from an institution they can trust," he said in a leaked letter to Gordon Brown.

Mandelson hoped that such an expansion of services could be the shot in the arm needed to save the network, with 2,500 closures currently mooted. Ministers are also discussing the possibility of extra services such as providing ID cards and pictures for new passports.

The post office has already benefited from the funding squeeze, as many worried customers have moved their savings to its financial arm

The post office has already benefited from the funding squeeze, as many worried customers have moved their savings to its financial arm.

Integral to community

It's an unusual business, the post office.

Save for the recently rescued titans of the finance sector, few other industries are buttressed quite so readily by the government.

And yet, the incumbent party is frequently accused by the Opposition and community groups alike for not doing enough.

This is because post offices are widely seen as contributing to the public good, and the public sees them as an indispensable part of communities, especially those in remote areas.

As with pubs, the public are emotionally attached to them, seeing them as integral to the social and cultural fabric of British society.

But unlike the village inn, which is also struggling in the modern world, the government deems the village post office worthy of government support.

This support takes the form of subsidies for rural post offices that would otherwise be commercially unviable.

So if you're looking for an escape route from the city, but are concerned about the viability of rural businesses - which suffer from poor transport and communication, and population atrophy - why not consider a village post office? You'll be a hub for the community and an essential service for older people to whom the internet is impenetrable.

The essential nature of your core service ensures resilience in a recession, while government plans to expand the range of services on offer reassures that this venerable institution is adapting to the modern world.

The post office already provides broadband, while it still sells more foreign currency than any other retailer and is the third largest provider of travel insurance in the UK. As well as the mainstays of bill payment, licensing, the National Lottery, and of course postage, the Post Office now brokers unsecured loans and offers credit cards too.

For many subpostmasters, the post office represents a relatively minor part of the operation. As well as selling goods such as alcohol, newspapers, confectionary and gift cards, they'll enjoy regular subsidies from the Post Office.

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