The Government is committed to supporting a post office network that meets the needs of communities across the country, particularly in rural areas. A modernised post office network will provide a better range of financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses.
Reflecting our commitment to sustaining a nationwide post office network and daily mails service, the Government made €30m available in State funding to An Post which is being used to support the renewal of the post office network (€15m) and the continued fulfilment of a 5 day per week mails delivery service (€15m). As An Post is a commercial State body, this support was provided by way of a loan.
The past financial challenges facing An Post have been well documented primarily due to the impact of email and other forms of online communication on mail volumes. Mail volumes have decreased some 40% since 2007. In 2018 alone mail volumes declined by 7.6%. In response, the An Post Board have put in place a strategic plan setting out a transformation of the company in both the mails and retail business.
An Post recorded an operating profit of €41.2m for 2018 compared to €8.4m for 2017. This represents the second year of significant financial improvement bringing the Group out of its loss making position of €12.4m in 2016. This reflects the significant amount of work that has gone into restructuring the company and modernising its network.
On 17 January 2019 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 in cash at Post Offices. The current terms of the contract between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and An Post were agreed in 2013 for an initial two year period, with an option to extend annually up to the end of 2019. Further contracts are a matter for the Department for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and An Post.
The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2017 includes an amendment to allow for the tendering of TV Licence fee collection. The Bill is currently at an advanced drafting stage. In the meantime, there will be no change to the existing TV licence fee arrangements and An Post continues to work as my issuing agent in accordance with Section 145 of the Act.
As part of its consideration of the financial position of An Post, the Government agreed that further opportunities for Government business through the Post Office Network should be explored. The first practical step that the Government took was the launch of the Digital Assist pilot initiative. Government funding of €80,000 was allocated to the scheme which has seen 10 post offices kitted out to assist citizens with online Government interactions. The pilot will provide data and insight in relation to the provision of offline Government services to citizens. A review of the initiative will be carried out shortly.
On 4 September 2018, the Government approved the establishment of an interdepartmental group to identify options, including procurement frameworks, for delivering services to those citizens who do not wish to use, or are unable to use, digital services.