When banks closed their doors, they reassured us that local Post Offices would fill the void. Yet, as Post Offices face similar challenges, our communities are grappling with the consequences, just as we had feared.
Communities like Newtonmore are now facing the harsh reality of losing their Post Office. If it closes, what happens to Laggan and Kingussie service provisions, given that no new industry entrants can be found? With Nethybridge Post Office not being replaced, concerns grow for the future of remaining post offices across Strathspey. How far should people be expected to travel to access vital services?
Over the years, I have seen local postmasters at their wit’s end because of the near-impossible funding model that has been put in place – most can barely make a living wage. In the UK Parliament, there is broad cross-party support for these postmasters, and it is very clear that the current model isn’t fit for purpose. It requires Government intervention and a new Framework that works for rural postmasters and communities.
Readers, as you know, Post Office closures in rural communities have significant consequences. Local businesses struggle to access essential support, while elderly and vulnerable residents face barriers to basic amenities. Often Post Offices are social hubs; ultimately, these closures weaken the heart of our communities, undermining their resilience and vibrancy.
As your MP, I feel a deep responsibility to ensure our communities have access to essential services. I know it can sometimes seem futile, but I believe it is essential that we do all we can to fight for these services to be protected and to look at ways we can support communities to build resilience and capacity.
This week, I have written to both Governments, urging their support for a three-point plan to protect these vital services in rural communities:
Firstly, it has long been clear that the UK Government needs to intervene to ensure Post Office adopt a funding model that enables postmasters to earn a living wage while ensuring the sustainability of local Post Offices. This long-overdue action has broad cross-party support in the UK Parliament.
Secondly, we need to establish legal protections around vital services such as banking, Post Offices and broadband. We need a minimum service commitment to protect smaller communities.
We also need to continue to invest in rural infrastructure: Both Governments must allocate funds and resources to develop robust communication and transportation networks in rural areas. If the UK Government genuinely wants to level up, rural communities must be at the front of the queue for support.
We must also explore ways Governments can support local communities to lead where the systems are letting them down. Although there are fantastic examples of community-led initiatives, we cannot leave this up to chance – we need to do all we can to find solutions that work best for the people who live and work there.
In short, we cannot have thriving, interconnected rural communities if we have a lack of basic service provision.
You know better than anyone what your community needs to thrive, and I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can work together to protect these vital services in our communities. Visit www.drewhendrymp.scot/communities to share your thoughts on how we work together to build a stronger future for our rural areas.