Operational matters and the role of developing commercial strategies for the post office network are a matter for the management and Board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function.
As shareholder, however, I have a strong concern in relation to the ongoing commercial position of the Company and I regularly liaise with the Company in this regard. An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country. I have impressed on the Company the need to further exploit its unique position in this regard and have been supportive of its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins.
I am also, however, conscious that An Post faces a difficult financial position. The efforts by the Company to generate new income streams are most welcome. Equally, An Post must ensure that it has a competitive costbase. In this context, I recognise the efforts of the Company, in co-operation with its workforce to ensure constraint in operating costs, especially payroll which is such a major component of the Company’s fixed costs.
In May this year, I addressed the annual conference of the Irish Postmasters’ Union and emphasised the intrinsic strengths of the network and the opportunities for new developments. Having invested in the computerisation of all post offices, An Post is well positioned to become the front office provider of choice for Government and the financial services sector.
I also recently addressed the Seanad and engaged in a lively discussion with Senators on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications ‘Report on Promoting a Sustainable Future for the Post Office Network’, which I find both positive and ambitious. The Report’s recommendations reflect a common sense approach to improving the viability and sustainability of the network and I am pleased to say that many of the suggestions made have been adopted, at least in part, by An Post.
An Post has made much progress towards diversification with its enhanced arrangement with AIB and its agreement with Aviva for the transfer of Aviva Ireland’s branch offices personal insurance business book to One Direct. More recently the opportunity to pay the local property tax via An Post outlets was secured. An Post has also been selected as the preferred bidder, following a competitive tender process, for the cash element of welfare payments which augurs well for the future of the network.
In the context of the public sector transformation agenda I will continue to engage with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to consideration, as appropriate, of the post office network for transactional elements of the business of Government Departments and Agencies and have stressed to my Government colleagues that the network is ideally configured for over the counter transactions.
Overall, it is Government policy that An Post remains a strong and viable company, in a position to provide a high quality, nationwide postal service and maintain a nationwide customer focussed network of post offices.