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Revealed by mistake on the net: the secret Post Office hit list


By MARTIN DELGADO - More by this author » Last updated at 23:21pm on 24th November 2007 commentIconSm.gif Comments

A secret hit list of post offices facing the axe has been revealed - after managers put it on the internet by mistake.

The list should have been kept under wraps until the start of a public consultation next summer.


But in an embarrassing blunder, it appeared on the Post Office's own website last week before being hurriedly removed.


About 2,500 post offices - more than one in five of the 14,300-strong network - are due to be shut by the end of 2008.


The operation is being carried out in stages, with staff and public in each region invited to make their views known before a final decision is taken.

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joancollinsMS2411_468x307.jpgCounter Offensive: Joan Collins in the Post Office's new TV ad campaign


See the branches due for closure

Last week plans for offices in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland were to be publicised. But instead of announcing details for just those three counties, managers published a much larger list - which also showed branches destined for possible closure in parts of Warwickshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.


When worried subpostmasters contacted Post Office headquarters to demand an explanation, the document was quickly removed and replaced by an approved version.


The hit list's existence has prompted fears that a promised in-depth analysis of how post offices serve communities has not been carried out. Researchers were supposedto be visiting branches to assess their importance before any were earmarked for closure.


But last night Post Office chiefs faced accusations that they had already made up their minds about which are to be axed. One subpostmasterin the affected area said: "No one's been round to ask me any questions. It looks like they've already decided what they're going to do."


George Thomson, general secretary of the National Federation of SubPostmasters, said: "We have expressed our very strong concerns to Post Office Ltd as to why and how they compiled and then released this information. We have made clear our wish that Post Office Ltd must put measures in place to alleviate the very real concerns of subpostmasters and their customers."


The secret list - a copy of which was downloaded by The Mail on Sunday during its appearance on the internet - shows that Nuneaton, Bedworth, Coventry, Kenilworth, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Bedford are likely to lose up to 30 branches.


Mark Lancaster, MP for North-East Milton Keynes, said last night: "By pressing ahead with these nonsensical closures, Ministers are simply giving two fingers to the needs of the elderly and other vulnerable groups."


The list also reveals possible closures in the North Warwickshire constituency of Pensions Minister Mike O'Brien, which could prove embarrassing for the New Labour loyalist.

Last week it was revealed that the Government had asked the Post Office to delay any closures in the run-up to next year's local elections because the topic was so politically sensitive. Ministers say the cuts are essential to maintain a nationwide network which at the moment is losing £4million a week - double what it was two years ago.


A Post Office spokesman said: "Any suggestion that our public consultations are not legitimate is simply untrue." He added that the data which appeared on the website last week was "provisional, untested planning information" which would change over the coming months.

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