The development and continued viability of An Post and the post office network, is in the first instance, a matter for the board and management of An Post.
An Post plays, and will continue to play, a key role, both in delivery of mails and as a quality service provider through its nationwide network of post office outlets. However, there is universal agreement that change is required if the postal services of An Post are to adapt to the modern business environment and to continue to offer a top class nationwide delivery service to the customer into the future.
With this in mind, the board and management of An Post have presented a recovery plan, which I believe is vital to the re-establishment of the company on a more secure financial footing. Adoption of restructuring that delivers real change is the only way that An Post can secure its financial position. It is the Government's objective to maintain the largest, economically sustainable post office network possible. The challenge for all stakeholders in An Post is to generate sufficient profitable business to maintain the network at its current size by building on existing strengths to develop new product offerings.
The network has a high footfall and to capitalise on these advantages it is essential that existing and new services are developed to meet customer requirements. The network also has the capacity and potential to deliver more private business especially in financial services and opportunities are actively being pursued by An Post in this area. On foot of substantial investment in computerisation, a significant amount of extra business has already been obtained for the network in terms of banking and utility business.
At present 95% of An Post's business is conducted through automated offices. Also underway is a new pilot scheme to automate a total of ten smaller post offices. This will allow the company to determine to what extent, if any, further investment in automation might be justified. The results of this project will be evaluated at the end of the trial period.
I have also asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network and, in this light, An Post is currently working on a new initiative, the An Post financial services strategy, which could see the development and expansion of the range of financial services that it can deliver through its network of post offices. If successful, it could lead to a significant increase in post office business and contribute to the viability of the network.
I have at all times kept all the key stakeholders at An Post, including the IPU, apprised of developments at An Post and have welcomed its views on the future development of the company. In this regard, I have met with representatives of the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, on a number of occasions over the past 12 months and as recently as last Thursday, 10 November.