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September 22, 2008 10:26 PM

A senior Newcastle Liberal Democrat campaigner has challenged Royal Mail to respond to reports that they are pressurising sub-postmasters into closure by placing unreasonable demands on their business operations.

There has been considerable local concern over the plan to close more than 80 Post Offices across the North East in the latest round of Government-approved closures.

Councillor Greg Stone, Lib Dem Parliamentary spokesman for Newcastle East, is leading efforts to save St Anthony's Post Office in Walker, which was belatedly added to the list of closures after a branch in Blackhall was reprieved.

Greg said: "Having talked to the sub-postmasters in a number of branches slated for closure in Newcastle East, I have been shocked to learn of the unreasonable demands being imposed on them by the Royal Mail.

"They are afraid to speak out publicly after being compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements which will lead to them forfeiting compensation if they speak out to criticise the closure programme.

"However, I have been reliably advised that the Royal Mail are placing additional demands that would force sub-postmasters - who in many cases operate ancillary retail businesses to earn a living - to stop operating related services such as Pay Point payment schemes for rent and fuel bills and even sale of Lottery tickets from their shops.

"Those who are not prepared to agree to this will have their compensation withdrawn. This will make it even harder for small local stores to continue trading and will further financially exclude many constituents who rely on their local shop to pay their bills.

"I am led to understand that the Labour Party's conference will consider a policy document calling on post offices to 'diversify' to survive a difficult financial climate - created by the Labour Government - by running 'biometric ID services' for passports and driving licences, not to mention compulsory ID Cards in the future.

"I find it outrageous and chilling that the Labour government would rather see post offices as centres for processing ID Cards rather than somewhere a local pensioner can pay their fuel bills, and are prepared to withdraw compensation from those postmasters who refuse to comply with their diktat.

"I call upon Minister Pat McFadden and the Royal Mail to comment on this issue and confirm or deny whether they are planning to prevent any postmaster on their hit list from making a living by operating non-PO retail services such as Paypoint, and I challenge them to explain how this will address financial and social exclusion in areas like St Anthony's in Walker."