East Belfast MLA Naomi Long was part of an Alliance Party delegation that met with Post Office representatives today to discuss proposed branch closures.
Cllr Long met with Raymond Crea, Head of Area NI Post Offices, to discuss concerns that have been raised about a number of Post Office closures, in particular Knocknagoney, and the effect this will have on communities.
Councillor Long said: “The Government has made a decision to deliberately run down Post Offices, and left others to pick up the pieces and deal with the chronic social impact. There is a now moral responsibility for the Department to address the social exclusion issues this ill-considered Government policy has brought about.
“Since the introduction of the direct payments scheme a year ago, there has been a 47 percent drop in business in Knocknagoney PO. This is set to continue, as it is only half way through introducing the new system.
“Sadly, Tesco’s has refused to relocate a Post Office in its Knockagoney store, but if the area was classified as ‘urban deprived’ it would be entitled to grant aid, as it would be seen to be fulfilling a social need. The problem is that although the Post Office is actually in an area of deprivation, areas of affluence near it disguise this fact, meaning it cannot be categorised properly.
“Knocknagoney estate will have no services whatsoever once the Post Office closes. I am now writing to the Department to see if there is any way in which they can look at how they classify pockets of deprivation as the current rules fail to take small areas into account adequately.
“I believe that the closure of Knocknagoney Post Office will deprive people of a vital service. Following its closure, the closest Post Office will be well over a mile away, making it difficult for those who are elderly, disabled or with young families to access services.
“Current decisions seem to be based on the desire of certain postmasters to close up shop, but we believe that Post Offices offer a vital community service, and other factors such as impact on the community must be taken into consideration when making final decisions.
“The community in this area is in a particularly isolated position and as such the closure will have a bigger impact than in a more central location.”