Sunday, December 17

Rural Post Offices

Plans were announced last week to close up to 2,500 British rural post offices – causing huge distress amongst campaigners who have been fighting hard to retain the existing network.

Immediately, though, we have seen claims that the closures arise "directly because of a ruling from the European Commission." There seems to be some merit in this argument as,
last February, reports were stating that that EU commissioner Neelie Kroes had given permission to the British government to continue subsidising the network.

The original
Commission document, tells the detailed story. Rather than approve a "deal" – the commission actually concluded that the subsidy paid by the British government to rural post offices did not constitute state aid. Furthermore, the commission stated:

''Even if the measures were deemed to be State aids, they would be compatible with the common market under Article 86 (2) EC in that the mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the State payments and loans are commensurate to the net cost of the public service and its continued delivery and in that the measures do not affect trade to such an extent as contrary to the Community interests.''
The crucial element here is the specific services being subsidised were regarded as "Services of General Economic Interest" (SGEI), the provision of which did not affect community trade. Also, in making its ruling, the commission seems entirely to have accepted the argument that:

''Local post offices are relied on disproportionately by the most vulnerable in society – the elderly, single parents, the unemployed, disabled people, carers, and those without access to a car or convenient public transport services and this is particularly true in rural and urban underprivileged areas.''
Basically, the three-year period arose only because the British government only asked the commission to consider that timespan. When the British Government Government wanted to continue with the arrangement, the commission readily agreed, hence the Kroes ruling.

Much as we enjoy savaging the European Union, a clinical evaluation of the evidence rather suggests that no blame for the current round of post office closures can be attributed to any of the EU Plans which were announced last week.
In the round, the blame for this debacle looks to be closer to home, and can be laid entirely at the door of the current Labour Government.

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