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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 16:38 GMT
50 councils may run post offices
Post Office sign

Up to 50 local authorities are looking at taking over post offices scheduled for closure, the leader of Essex County Council has claimed.

Lord Hanningfield told BBC Two's The Daily Politics it was a case of councils "doing something people want".

Essex County Council is considering reopening and running 15 post offices - among 2,500 which are earmarked for closure nationally.

Ministers say the closures are needed to cut losses of 4m a week.

Essex County Council, which is negotiating a buy-out price from the Post Office, says 15 branches - out of 31 which have closed or are due to close - could be saved.

'Our job'

Postal Affairs Minister Pat McFadden has given his approval to the scheme.

Lord Hanningfield, a Conservative, said: "If the public want post offices then it's up to us. It's our job to provide them.

SOME COUNCILS WHO HAVE CONTACTED ESSEX
Lancashire
Westminster
York
Devon
Angus
Gwynedd
Denbighshire
Torbay
Rother
Nottinghamshire
Leicestershire
Thameside
Camden
Ealing
Manchester City
Source: Essex County Council

"Perhaps the government and the Post Office are missing out by cutting a service that the public like."

He added: "Up to 50 councils have contacted us around the country... I've been in local government a while and this has been the most popular thing I've ever been involved with."

Essex County Council has said it could make a profit by combining postal services with council services.

The stated aim is for any investment to be used over three years to help each branch to move towards becoming financially self-sufficient and "cost-neutral".

A spokesman for the county council said: "This has been hugely popular."

'Very rushed'

Conservative MP Peter Luff, who chairs the Commons business and enterprise committee, told The Daily Politics: "It [the Essex scheme] may be a good idea that perhaps is being done in a bit of a hurry."

This was a result of the "very rushed nature" of the national consultation over which post office branches should close, he added.

The Essex scheme has the backing of the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities in England and Wales.

But the TaxPayers' Alliance described the plan as "extremely risky", adding that councils should focus on providing basic services.

The government announced at the end of 2006 that 2,500 of the country's 14,000 post offices were likely to close by the end of this year because of rising losses largely caused by fewer people using the network.

Critics say the move will have a devastating effect on communities, particularly rural ones.



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