The Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) is the representative body for 90% of Postmasters, including almost 1,000 members. The IPU works to ensure a secure future for Post Offices across Ireland. The IPU is committed to maximising the economic and social value of Post Offices and represents Postmasters in negotiations with Government and An Post.
What is the role of the Postmaster?
Postmasters are independent SME’s contracted by An Post to run Post Offices. They are not State employees and are not paid a fixed salary. They are paid by the State, or commercial bodies, per transaction and many also run local shops in tandem with the Post Office.
As group of SMEs, Postmasters pay almost €2 million in rates to Local Authorities (approx. €2k per Post Office). All rates, rent, wages, etc. are paid by the Postmaster.
What is the size and scale of the Irish Post Office Network?
The Post Office Network is the largest retail Network in Ireland with 933 branches. 888 Post Offices are run by independent Postmasters who operate as small businesses and provide employment to 1,409 Full time equivalents.
The public continues to use the Post Office in large numbers, serving 1.3 million customers every week. The Network carries out 30 million Department of Employment and Social Protection transactions per year, paying out €4.6 billion into the local economy.
What do Post Offices provide to the public and communities?
Post Offices provide essential Postal, Social and Financial services at 933 community based locations.
The Postal Services provided are stamps, postage and delivery of letter and parcels nationally and internationally. The Social Services include Social Protection payments, payment of fines and licences, Passport Express and Prize Bonds. Financial Services include BillPay, local banking, NTMA (State Savings), foreign exchange and national and international money transfer.
Post Offices are widely acknowledged to have a highly positive influence on business and community life in their localities. They also provide a social centrepoint and contribute to community cohesion.
Is the future of the Post Office Network under threat?
Current concern about the future of the Post Office network has been growing and has been set out in three independent reports by Grant Thornton, firstly in 2012, a follow up report in 2014 and most recently in 2020.
The most recent Report, published in September 2020, warned of ‘unrestrained Post Office closures’ after June 2021 (when payments to Postmasters reduce under a new contract).
Their analysis recommended an annual Public Service Obligation (PSO) of €17million, which it said would represent value for money for the State and provide a return of between €334 and €776 million.
A core reason for this challenge is ongoing transition to online based transactions.
However, the IPU believes that the Post Office Network remains a valuable National Asset which needs to be secured into the future retaining its role in the delivery of Social Protection payments – and its role expanded to meet the evolving needs of the public, particularly to address the option of off-line services.
What is happening to tackle this threat?
In 2015 the IPU published a Six Point Plan on steps to secure and develop the Network’s future.
Following the publication of the Post Office Network Business Development Group Report (Chaired by Bobby Kerr and involving the IPU, Government and An Post) in January 2016, the IPU took part in two Working Groups with An Post and Government on the future of Post Offices.
An An Post led plan was agreed and then launched in Springtime 2018. A new commercial contract was agreed with Postmasters and it promised a Post Office service within 3km in all urban areas and 15km, or to a community of 500 people, in rural areas.
However, planned additional Government services at Post Offices did not materialise and in 2021 the Network faces ever increasing challenges, added to by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2021 the IPU presented it’s recommendations to the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Transport and Communications Networks and called for the recommendations of the 2020 Grant Thornton report to be urgently implemented from summer 2021.
This would involve the establishment of an annual Government PSO payment to the Post Office Network, in the format of a retainer, together with expansion of Government services provided through the Network.
The IPU believes that there are many opportunities available to provide more Government services at Post Offices, making it the provider of choice of all essential off-line / face-to-face Government services.
The IPU will continue to work for the maintenance and development of the Irish Post Office Network through engagement with its members, stakeholders across Irish Society and Government.