Tuesday 12 December 2017

An Post must be allowed to take on our rip-off banks

One of the commemorative stamps
One of the commemorative stamps
Another of the 70c commemorative stamps
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

To mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, An Post issued a special set of stamps - as befits an institution that still uses the GPO as its headquarters. The stamps feature the 1916 leaders, along with RIC men like Constable James O'Brien (commonly thought of as the first victim of the Rising).

You don't need to be a philatelist to appreciate that they are impressive stamps. On a recent family visit to the 1916 exhibition I bought a set of them.

But they are 70c each - the cost of sending a letter in this State. That is too much, even if An Post is hitting a target of delivering 94pc of letters by the next day.

The high cost of a stamp, in an era dominated by emails, illustrates the kind of financial pressures An Post is under. And this is important if we are to retain the post office network - which is something especially pertinent in rural areas.

The volume of mail handled by An Post has halved since hitting a peak in 2007. It made a small profit last year of €8.5m, largely due to the success of the Gift Voucher Shop, which issues the One4All vouchers, and a profits contributed from a UK parcel courier company it owns.

The profit figure will be wiped out if the company accedes to union demands for a pay rise for its staff - something they have not had for seven years.

The company has a network of 1,150 rural and urban post offices. It closed six last year.

Cost-cutting has kept the company in good financial shape up to now, but new chairman Dermot Divilly will be only too aware that An Post needs a radical shake-up.

A blueprint for this was provided by entrepreneur Bobby Kerr. One of his key recommendations was a deeper move into financial services.

The plan is that more than 1,000 post offices nationwide would challenge the dominance of the main banks by offering better-value payment accounts.

An Post has been trying to speed up plans to widen its financial services offering, but has been hit by delays and dithering at government level.

The aim is to offer debit cards, full access to ATMs and point-of-sale facilities. Also planned are budgeting facilities as part of the account, allowing people to spread out bills over a year. Post offices currently offer banking services for customers of AIB and Ulster Bank.

If An Post is to be still around to issue stamps commemorating the 110th anniversary of the Rising it had better change fast and get deeper into financial services.

This is because the likelihood is that letters and stamps will be only found in museums by then.

Sunday Indo Business

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