As Minister, I am responsible for the postal sector including the governance of An Post which is a commercial State company with a mandate to deliver a postal delivery service and a viable post office network. I am acutely conscious of the value placed by communities in both rural and urban areas on services provided by post offices and I am fully committed to ensuring that a sustainable post office network is available to all our citizens for the medium and for the long term.
As a result of various actions taken by Government in the last two years, An Post has been able to construct and begin implementing a strategic plan for a sustainable future. There is widespread acceptance that the post office network requires modernisation to build, to maintain and to protect a service that meetings the needs of communities across the country. As part of its strategic plan, An Post is implementing a renewed vision for the post office network which centres on the availability of new services in a modernised, revitalised network. Such services include a better range of Government services, financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses. Investment of €50 million in the network, which is equivalent to €45,000 per post office, is about getting communities to use the enhanced services in their local post office.
As part of its strategy for modernising the post office network, An Post has established a dedicated business unit within An Post, An Post Retail. Additional services that An Post propose to introduce through the network include a better range of Government services, financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses. There is already a rapid expansion of banking services happening with the Smart Current Account and enhanced foreign exchange facilities. Post offices will have credit card services and will be able to provide loans to small business and personal loans. A new partnership between Avantcard and An Post will also see personal loan services available in every post office across the country and the creation of new jobs. An Post is committed to ensuring that our post offices will be equipped with the range of services that will attract and retain footfall but these measures are meaningless unless the public use the services provided. Key to the survival of this renewed network is the willingness of all citizens to use it.
Government business is the backbone of the network. In April this year the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection renewed her Department’s contract with An Post to provide pensions, child benefit and other social welfare payments at post offices.
While Government policy is to offer Government services online, there will always be a segment of the population that is not comfortable or proficient accessing online tools or services. The post office network is the obvious choice as an 'offline gateway' for citizens with its nationwide network and existing strong relationship with offline citizens. Government funding of €80,000 has been allocated to roll out a pilot scheme for Digital Assist, which I launched last week, which will see 10 post offices equipped to help citizens with online Government transactions.