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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Post Office 'pressured' by change
Rural post office
Some rural post offices will operate as banks under new plans
Post Office representatives have told MPs that postal workers face huge pressures in making changes to the operation of rural branches within three years.

The measures to make some smaller offices operate as banks are intended to stem the tide of post office closures after pensions and benefits can be paid directly into bank accounts after 2003.

Post Office chief executive John Roberts told the trade and industry select committee he could not guarantee there would not be industrial action in the near future.

He said there was "pressure to move as quickly as commercially viable", and that another five years would have been welcome to implement the plans.

Under the plans, some branches will form a "Universal Bank", providing 3.5 million people with bank accounts who currently do not have them, allowing them also to use cash machines and set up direct debits.

'Pockets of resistance'

Post office workers are facing "changes at a rate we've never seen before," he said, and although discussions with union leaders had been constructive, he admitted the plans were facing "pockets of resistance".

But Mr Roberts said the new plans were welcome after a decade of uncertainty about the future of the Post Office.

He told the Trade and Industry Select Committee the main challenge facing the Post Office was to maintain the public's trust and ensure the required changes were made "without disruption to the customer."

Days lost in industrial action went up from 6,000 to 22,000 last year.

Mail deliveries were disrupted in London last week after more than 1,000 postal workers went on strike over the sacking of an alleged football hooligan.

Mr Roberts told MPs he fully supported the sacking because he cherished the Post Office's reputation as a service the public could trust.

Mr Roberts told MPs that he welcomed the 270m extra given to post offices in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

It amounted to "substance and not spin", he told MPs, but said he hoped it was only the first stage in a programme of investment.

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See also:

17 May 00 | UK Politics
Warning over post office closures
28 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Bank and net plan for post offices
12 Apr 00 | UK Politics
'Post Office must modernise'
28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Blair '100% behind' public Post Office
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