MORE than 100 of the region’s post offices will tomorrow find out if they are on a shortlist that could see them closed within months.
Rural communities, elderly people and businesses are gearing up for a six-week battle to save a service on which many have come to rely.
Post Office Ltd will release the list of facilities that it is recommending for closure in North Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland as part of Government cost cutting measures designed to save £500,000 a day.
With just over 560 branches currently serving the North East, the region could lose about a fifth of its offices in coming months, a loss that will be felt particularly in small rural communities.
Regional director of the Countryside Alliance Richard Dodd said that the proposed closures were bad news for those living in the countryside.
He said: “Everybody is worried about it. Post offices are often also the cornerstone of a village shop, so if you take away the post office you could also end up losing the shop.
“It’s not like in the towns where post offices can just operate as post offices – in the countryside the income from the post office can also support the shop.
“We have a very urban minded Government. It looks like the rural area is going to take the brunt of the closures.”
The consultation period will last six weeks and those earmarked for closure will then shut their doors for the final time a month later.
A total of 14 have already been listed for closure in parts of southern County Durham, with more to follow across the north of the county, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.
Newcastle City Council has begun investigating the possibility of moving post office services into civic buildings with authorities in both Durham and Northumberland monitoring the option of running the facilities themselves.
Other suggestions put forward to soften the blow of losing the facilities, especially in rural areas, have included moving services to church and village halls. Andy Dean, director of regeneration and communities at Tynedale Council, said: “We are anticipating a fairly bleak list.”
A Post Office spokesman said: “The Government has recognised that fewer people are using post office branches, partly because traditional services, including benefit payments and other services are now available through other means, such as online or directly through banks.”