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Council joins Post Office pilot that could make it a ‘Front Office for Government’

John Freeman
Lancaster City Council has joined a national pilot to identify opportunities for Post Offices to deliver a wider range of public sector services - and hopefully prevent any further rounds of unpopular post office closures.

The hope is that any long term link up with local Councils and Post Offices will make Post Offices a ‘Front Office for Government’ for local government and other public sector services - although this could, of course, also potentially impact on jobs currently done by some Council staff.

In November 2010, the Post Office launched a year long partnership pilot with Sheffield City Council, looking at how a closer working relationship could benefit both the Post Office, the council and customers. Sheffield was chosen because some 700,000 transactions per year are already carried out at Post Office branches on behalf of its Council, which is the second highest of any local authority in the country.
The pilot ended in November 2011 and now, hoping to build on these experiences further, 24 more local authorities, including Lancaster City Council, have agreed to take part in a further pilot scheme.

Both the Council and the Post Office will work closely together to identify opportunities where the Post Office could deliver some services on behalf of public services locally.

The original pilot offered various recommendations, arguing there was value for Post Offices in linking up with local authority strategic partners, including from the private sector, to identify opportunities to support local service delivery.

It found that the Post Office’s network transformation programme, combined with the community leadership of councils could create opportunities to transform post office facilities, improve service standards and broaden the service offer of post offices to deliver
efficient and effective joined up services.

In particular, the Post Office was seen as offering a vital role in the face-to-face
transactions for those who can’t or won’t go online or where the transaction involves
a face-to-face element.

“The Post Office is at the very heart of our communities and provides a vital service to both the public and to businesses," feels Council leader Eileen Blamire. “At the same time local councils such as ourselves and other public services need to be more efficient and it makes common sense for us to look at ways in which we can work together more closely.

“Delivering some services through Post Offices would not only provide a better service to the public, it could help to maintain a vital community resource.

“We have no preconceptions about which services the Post Office may be able to deliver on  behalf of public services such as ourselves and what is right for one local area won’t be for another.  The purpose of the pilot will be to explore what opportunities may be available and I very much look forward to seeing the outcome.”

Of course, if anything is to come of this, the Government need to do their bit, too, especially after so many local post office closures in recent years which outraged many people. Reporting on the original pilot scheme in Sheffield the report on that argues the Post Office needs to be supported to deliver major public transactional services and take risks to diversify their service offer.

Read the original report on the pilot scheme (PDF link)