Rural towns and villages are set for a massive blow as large-scale closures of post offices and bank branches are on the cards.
A report for the Government on the future of post offices has recommended the closure of 80 post offices, mainly in rural areas.
Meanwhile, Ulster Bank is planning to shut down up to 30 branches, the Irish Independent has learned. The bank is expected to announce soon that it is shutting one-in-four branches, also mainly in rural locations.
An unpublished review of the future strategy for An Post is understood to recommend the closure of 80 rural post offices.
The plan, devised by businessman Bobby Kerr, is aimed at stemming losses of up to €12m a year from the branch network for State-owned An Post.An Post has 1,130 post offices, but many of the smaller ones are loss-making, as more people receiving State pensions and child benefit are choosing to have payments made directly into their bank accounts.
Most of the losses are generated by around 500 post office branches, with almost all of these small operations.
However, An Post boss David McRedmond is expected to resist moves to close large numbers of post offices. Instead, the semi-state is seeking a State bailout of up to €58m.
A spokeswoman for An Post said it was conducting an in-depth review of the post office network.
“This is not a short-term focus, but a solidly based long-term business that can thrive in the modern market and anticipate the future needs of our corporate and personal customers.”
The threat of large-scale closures of post offices comes as it has emerged that a review carried for Ulster Bank recommends the shutting down of one in four of its branches.
It is understood consultants McKinsey, working for Ulster Bank and its parent RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland), recommends the closure of up to 30 branches, mainly in smaller towns.
The move will hit the towns where other banks have closed branches particularly hard. In many cases the Ulster Bank is the last bank in town.
Ulster has 110 branches in the Republic, following the shutting down of branches in 2014.
Compulsory redundancies are now feared, with a culling of some of the 65 branches in the North also expected. Edinburgh-headquartered RBS is also shutting branches in the UK.
It comes after 160 branches countrywide were shut down by all the main banks since 2008.
This figure does not include the exit from this market of Bank of Scotland/Halifax and Danske Bank, leading to a huge loss of banking services.
A spokeswoman for the bank would only say: “Ulster Bank has not announced any branch closures, but we keep this under review.”
The Financial Services Union (FSU) has expressed concern about the future of Ulster Bank’s branch network in the Republic following a review being carried out into the bank’s activities by consultants McKinsey.
General secretary of the FSU Larry Broderick said he was expecting to be called into Ulster Bank by senior management any day now to be told of the branch closures.
“There is a review going on and they are looking at Ireland. Branch closures have not been ruled out,” he said.
The union recently called on financial institutions to commit that between them at least one bank branch would remain open in each town or locality.
The Irish Postmasters’ Union confirmed that the Kerr report recommends an estimated 80 post office closures over the coming four years.
It called for urgent Government sanction for additional services to be provided in post offices, particularly motor tax. It wants an exit package for affected postmasters.
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