I am responsible for the postal sector, including the governance of An Post, which is a commercial semi-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. I am fully committed to ensuring a sustainable post office network is available to all our citizens for the medium and long term.
As a result of various actions taken by the Government in the past 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, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities throughout the country. As part of its strategic plan, An Post is implementing a renewed vision for the network, which centres on the availability of new services in a modernised and revitalised network. Such services include a better range of government, financial and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses. Investment of €50 million in the network, equivalent to €45,000 per post office, is about getting communities to use the enhanced services in their local post offices.
Essential to delivering on a renewed vision for the post office network is the agreement reached with the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU. In its negotiations with An Post, postmasters sought both the modernisation of the network and a voluntary redundancy package for those who wanted to exit the business. There are several reasons postmasters are availing of this offer, including age and low population levels, as well as the fact that some postmasters are not even earning the minimum wage as a result of declining transaction levels and mail volumes.
It is long-standing policy that postal services will not be directly subsidised by the Government. This view has been held by successive Governments. An Post is a commercial semi-State body with a mandate to deliver postal services and a viable post office network.
Reflecting its commitment to sustaining a nationwide post office network and daily mails service, the Government made €30 million available in State funding to An Post in 2017, in the form of a repayable loan, to support the renewal of the post office network and the continued fulfilment of a five-day-per-week mails delivery service. In addition, Government funding of €80,000 has also been allocated to roll out a pilot scheme called Digital Assist, which will equip ten post offices to help citizens with online government interactions. The pilot scheme is currently being rolled out in rural post offices.