Anchoring Economics

4.3. Sustaining thousands of local rural economies

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More than a quarter (around 3,000) of Post Office’s 11,500 branches are considered “the last shop in their village”

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In many communities around the United Kingdom, a post office is the last remaining shop in the village. A post office is defined as the last shop in the village if there are no convenience stores or CTN (confectionery, tobacco, newsagents) retailers within half a mile, meaning it is likely that members of the community would have to drive or use public transport to reach any shop if their post office were to shut. In fact, more than a quarter (around 3,000) of Post Office’s 11,500 branches are considered “the last shop in their village”. These branches provide a particular sense of community, such as being important to the local identity or culture or providing a sense of belonging ( (explored further in Section 5). They also ensure that people in these communities are not left behind, meaning they are able to access essential Post Office services and can complete basic tasks such as buying groceries without having to travel outside of the local community. Those who do not drive or are unable to would be most affected by this, as they would have to rely on public transport, which is generally weaker in more rural areas.

The full benefits of these branches are not fully captured through the profit and loss of the branches, as their unique standing in the community means they hold substantial social value. These branches are particularly important to older people and those with disabilities, which both make up a larger proportion of the population in rural areas (which is where these branches tend to be). The social value of post offices to rural populations is explored further in Section 6.

Box 5
Case study: Providing essential banking services in Rochford

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As bank branch closures continue across the UK, Bank Hubs bring banking services into one convenient place, providing a lifeline in communities across the UK like Rochford in Essex.

The town’s Bank Hub, which is operated by Post Office, opened in 2021 as part of a pilot to help secure access to cash for UK communities. At the time, Rochford’s banks had already closed, meaning residents and business owners had to travel to surrounding towns to withdraw and deposit cash.

Postmaster Richard Fleetwood said the Bank Hub was an ideal solution for Rochford.

“Local businesses use it all the time, mainly for cash deposits and getting change. For them, the Bank Hub is of huge benefit because previously they had to close early to go to whatever city or town the bank is in. From an operational perspective, their costs are lower.”

“They’ve also told us they’ve seen a big increase in footfall, because people come in and spend money in Rochford, rather than in city centres.”

The community really appreciated the innovation behind Bank Hub, he said, because it worked so well.

“We always hear, ‘What a great idea, and why has no one ever thought of it before?’

“A big part of why it works is having an independent, trusted group in the middle – Post Office – which can support all banks’ customers. Customers love it. It’s convenient, it’s free, and it’s made cash so much more accessible.”

The risk to local communities is significant if these last shops in the village are lost: Post Office branches that are the last shop in the village facilitate around 29 million Post Office visits per year. Furthermore, the loss of these branches would impact a disproportionate amount of additional spending. When using Post Office services, those in rural areas also use non-Post Office services four times out of 10, compared to one in four times in urban areas, highlighting the importance of these branches beyond providing access to vital Post Office services. For example, it is common that these branches are the last place in the village where people can buy basic groceries or a newspaper. Given the limited profitability of many of these branches, losing Post Office branches could mean that thousands of communities throughout the country would be left without any shops and lacking vital services, including those provided by Post Office such as postal and banking services, as well as others such as access to basic groceries. Maintaining support for branches in particularly rural settings is therefore highly important for the continued provision of essential services.