The Western Daily Press has helped to force a Government rethink on the future of rural post offices by delivering the largest petition in newspaper history to 10 Downing Street.
Dozens of mailbags containing 3,120,833 names were piledoutside Tony Blair’s front door – the climax of the paper’s six-month longDon’t Stamp Out Our Post Offices campaign.
On Tuesday, Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers announced that the Government might subsidise post offices to save them from closure. And he told MPs that the massive petition – urging the Government to think again on plans to pay benefits into bank accounts – had influenced his change of heart.
Editor Ian Beales, who helped to deliver the petition, said: “It was anincredible effort that was more successful than the paper could ever havedreamt of.
“When we launched it in November, we were trying to highlight the very strongfears there were in the West of England about the impact that changesproposed by the Government would have on the nation’s 18,500 sub postoffices.
“We soon realised that this was a national issue and sent our petition toevery sub post office, council and MP in the country. The response wassensational – and not just from our circulation area.
“We have had postmasters and mistresses, councils, organisations and MPscalling us from the length and breadth of the British Isles, congratulatingus and asking how they can become involved. We have also been contacted byother newspapers who have heard what we are doing and who have subsequentlylaunched their own campaigns.
“We are not about to hang up our sacks just yet though. There is still a lotof work to be done. We have sent shockwaves through the Government and wewill carry on fighting until they see sense.”
As part of its special delivery to Downing Street, the Western Daily Presshired a lorry which bore a campaign message in 18-inch-highletters.
The lorry, accompanied by a double-decker “battle” bus, took some of thedelegates to a rally in the Methodist Central Hall, which was attended by2,500 supporters.
The campaign was much more than a signature-signing operation. The WesternDaily Press has put forward 10 initiatives to help save post offices.
Mr Beales said: “When MPs and Government feel the pressure, they react. We hopethat our 3,000,000 voices will force them into action.”
Among those to sign the petition were Conservative leader William Hague,Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and a host of celebrities.
Mr Byers told MPs this week that the Government would leave open the option of paying subsidies. He said there would also be cash for viable post office in return for them providing services on behalf of the Government.
He dismissed claims that two Opposition debates had forced his hand, saying: “There was far more pressure brought to bear on the Government by the three million-signature petition.”
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