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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 18:52 GMT
Call for rural post office probe
A rural post office
Post offices are seen as playing a crucial role in rural communities
The UK Government should carry out an assessment of the impact of post office closures on Scottish rural communities, according to the first minister.

Jack McConnell told MSPs during First Minister's Questions that UK ministers should consult those affected.

He added that there should also be an "acceptable level" of future services.

Earlier, the trade and industry secretary announced at Westminster that about 2,500 post offices across the UK were expected to close by 2009.

SNP MSP Christine Grahame asked Mr McConnell to make representations to the UK Government.

She backed the comments of Tom Begg, chairman of Postwatch Scotland, who highlighted the importance of post offices, not only as places to send parcels and letters, but also as a meeting place in communities like the Borders.

The government simply does not understand the social value of local branches
David Mundell MP

The MSP for the South of Scotland added: "In making those representations to Her Majesty's government, will he inform those, by commissioning an assessment of the impact to those communities?"

She also called on him to report back to parliament on the issue before it went into recess.

However, Mr McConnell said the UK Government and the Post Office itself should carry out such an assessment.

"Proper engagement with the communities, based on the facts, is the way forward and I would hope they would take on board the suggestion that has been made," he said.

'Ruthless cuts'

Conservative MP David Mundell said the announcement was "both disappointing and wrong".

"The government simply does not understand the social value of local branches, that if one closes, often the last shop in the village closes as well," he said.

"While I recognise that services must be run in a cost-effective way, this government should be focusing on trying to bring new business opportunities to the network".

The Scottish National Party condemned the closures, describing them as "ruthless cuts".

Mike Weir MP said: "If the government is serious about a proper sustainable network then they should look not only at closures but also at opening offices in the current Post Office free desert."

Liberal Democrat MP Gordon, Malcolm Bruce, said: "Large scale closures will mean thousands of people will be cut off from the Post Office Network, and subjected to inconvenience and hardship simply because the government didn't have the wit to plan for a sustainable network."

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