Subsidising post offices not the answer

MUCH has been made of Essex's decision to try to subsidise post offices threatened with closure - and there have been suggestions that its lead could be followed up by other counties.

MUCH has been made of Essex's decision to try to subsidise post offices threatened with closure - and there have been suggestions that its lead could be followed up by other counties.

I sincerely hope that the powers that be at Endeavour House don't feel moved to follow this ill-advised lead and try to step in to save threatened post offices in Suffolk.

The Essex move is expected to cost the county about £1 million to save several dozen post offices - I hope voters in the county think that is a sensible use of their money.

In Suffolk councillors have shown very little indication of money-sense, being prepared to pay £220,000 to their new chief executive.

But if they do find themselves with £1 million burning a hole in their pockets, they must surely spend it on what they are voted into power to do - providing social services, keeping the roads well maintained, organising libraries, and ensuring the county is safe.

They should not be taking on extra work when the existing services are under so much stress - how could they tell a pensioner in Whitton they are cutting her hours at a day care centre so they can subsidise Kersey post office?

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Subsidising post offices doesn't make economic sense either.

When closures were announced, part of the reason was to try to make those which survived economic.

Put bluntly if two post offices in Little Villageham and Great Villageham both take £40,000 a year when they need £50,000 a year to break even, the hope is that by closing Great Villageham, enough of its customers will go to Little Villageham to let that earn £60,000 a year.

But if the county steps in and pays £10,000 to keep Great Villageham going, then Little Villageham isn't viable and faces closure - is the county then going to step in and subsidise that as well? Where will its generosity end?

No one wants their post office to close, and it is quite right for residents to fight to try to keep it open.

But looking to councils for a subsidy is not the answer - their money is already tight and they should not be expected to spread council taxpayers' money any thinner.

IPSWICH is going to get bigger.

The government has already made it quite clear that it does not see the current boundaries of the town as being large enough for unitary status.

That is clearly the right decision - and without wishing to stir up any more controversy with residents living just outside the existing borough boundary they have to be prepared to become part of the town at the end of the reorganisation project.

But I've heard from one or two within Ipswich who still want to see the town retain its current boundary - largely for political reasons.

They are members of the Labour Party who still see that their best chance of regaining and retaining power is if the boundary is unchanged.

They don't like the idea of the suburbs - which they see as natural Tory or Liberal Democrat territory - coming into the town.

That shows a distinct lack of confidence in their party's popularity - and it is also totally wrong-headed.

They really are fighting against the prevailing tide. Everyone who knows Ipswich knows the town's current boundaries are too restrictive.

And top of the list of those who know something must be done about this is the Labour government in Westminster - so there is really little point in any Labour members here fighting against expansion.

GORDON Brown and other members of his government can't have found life comfortable reading the weekend opinion polls - on the face of it things look miserable for the government.

But while the Conservative opposition is clearly a more formidable electoral machine than it has been for the last 15 years, I don't get the sense that we are approaching a sea-change in British politics to rival that in 1979 or 1997.

In fact, it still feels remarkably like the period of 1989-91 when the Conservative government was being battered in the polls and looked as if it was dead in the water.

It appeared to be on its deathbed and, unlike the current Labour government, had the misfortune to have to face a series of by-elections which it lost with remarkable consistency.

But when the country went to the polls in 1992, the still relatively-new prime minister John Major led his party to a narrow, but convincing victory.

If I was a betting man, I'd still put my 50p on Gordon Brown to repeat that trick when he eventually does call an election - and that might not happen until 2010.

But of course if Mr Brown does scrape through with a small majority like John Major, he will only have to look back to the years 1992-97 to know just how destructive a small majority with bolshie backbenchers can be to a once-powerful government.

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