1.1. Post Office CEO Foreword
It is entirely accidental, but somehow appropriate, that this new research from London Economics should coincide with the worst cost-of-living crisis experienced in the UK for more than 40 years. Appropriate because, as we also saw during the various Covid lockdowns, it is at times of national strain that people, the press and politicians are reminded of the value of the post office in their community.
In this regard, our ubiquity is both our unique selling point and our Achilles’ heel. So dependably present are post offices, day in, day out, in every community of all four nations, quietly providing essential services and a social hub, that it is perhaps unsurprising that an element of complacency sets in – Until circumstances conspire to focus attention back on the remarkable national asset the Post Office network represents.
While this research again reflects the very significant social value which people place on their post office, for the first time it also measures the economic contribution of the business and the Post Office network to the UK. The report shows that this economic contribution is felt in every corner of the country, and in every parliamentary constituency, supporting 50,000 jobs, and generating an aggregate economic impact of £4.7 billion every year. To bring this to life, this is a bigger contribution to UK PLC than was made by London’s Heathrow Airport. Equally, our social value has been valued at more than £4 billion to consumers nationwide. This is particularly striking given rising prices and the ongoing challenges to household budgets.
With many more than 5,000 bank branches closing since 2015, and this trend now accelerating post-pandemic, it is perhaps not surprising that small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) place a £1 billion value on the easy reach of post offices. We now routinely transact over £3.5 billion in cash over our counters every month, a large and growing proportion of which is the takings of the SMEs across the country, who account for approximately half of turnover in the UK private sector.
We have become essential to the shopkeepers, trades, and nascent businesses of the nation as a whole, and they have come to rely on our continued presence on high streets in towns and villages everywhere. Our free banking services are providing a life line for people too, and not just those already at the more vulnerable end of the spectrum. The cost-of-living crisis is making many reconsider the wisdom of unthinking card-tapping payments and rediscover how useful cash can be in setting and sticking to a tight budget.
Simply put, post offices, and the dedicated Postmasters and Postmistresses who run them, keep people connected. Connected to the financial system and their cash, to their friends and loved ones, to their customers at home or overseas, and connected to one another in what may, for some, be the only human contact in the day.
That the work is unglamorous does not make it any less valuable, nor does its ubiquity make it any less important. Any organisation with the economic and social value which has been evidenced in this report, based on what people would be willing to pay while they are struggling in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, should not be overlooked nor taken for granted. I argue that an organisation doing so while wholly owned by the taxpayer cannot, must not, be overlooked or underestimated by the government of the day.
Of course, the landscape in which post offices operate will change and post offices need to evolve to meet the nation’s changing needs. So, while there is no argument for preserving the status quo in some sort of ideological aspic, but there is real value here in the lived experience of the millions of people and businesses who come to a post office every week because they rely on us.
Let us not be complacent about that.
Chief Executive Officer
Post Office Limited