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THERE are fears across Comet country that an announcement in Parliament could sound the death knell for our rural post offices. Alistair Darling, secretary of state for Trade and Industry, was expected to set out the Government s plans for the future of t

THERE are fears across Comet country that an announcement in Parliament could sound the death knell for our rural post offices.

Alistair Darling, secretary of state for Trade and Industry, was expected to set out the Government's plans for the future of the Post Office today (Thursday).

It is thought he will announce a reduction in the Government's subsidy to Royal Mail - a move which could result in the closure of up to 3,000 post offices, mainly in rural areas.

Sub post masters in towns and villages across Comet country fear for their future with many believing a number of rural post offices could be lost.


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Steve Ansell who runs three village sub post offices in Shillington, Pirton and Meppershall said: "We have been given no indication of what might happen. But I fear I could lose two or all three of my post offices.

"Small post offices have been neglected and I am very concerned many small post offices like mine in village areas will go.

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"In the end they will only stay open if they are viable. Without running sub offices alongside village stores we couldn't make a living."

Also preparing for bad news was Sarah-Jayne Bruton at the sub post office at Old Warden who says she only gets six customers a week and survives by offering bed and breakfast and a small village shop to local residents.

"My husband and I have been here for 17 years and it is a struggle now. Without doing bed and breakfast we would not survive," said Mrs Bruton.

"Post offices like ours just cannot survive when we get on average six customers a week so if we are forced to close then I will not complain. It has been a struggle for a long time here and just can't go on."

Kudlip Lidder at the sub post office in High Street, Arlesey, was another postmaster fearing bad news.

He said: "I am very concerned. Post offices have lost so much trade through people being able to get pensions and licences by not coming in here.

"I just hope there will be a public outcry against post office closures.

"The Government must take into account what a sub post office means to a village. It is a vital part of the community and a centre where especially the elderly meet. If they don't come here they just become recluses and have nothing to go out for."

Brian Leach at the post office in Kitelands Road, Biggleswade, believes closures are inevitable in order to make savings while Jackie Vallance at The Oval, Stevenage, said being a busy post office she hoped hers would be safe from any cuts.

But at Bedwell in Stevenage, manager Gill Turner said: "I have spoken to many of our customers and they are worried by what they have read and I and my staff are worried about our jobs."

Amrik Rehal at Blakes Corner post office in Ickleford Road, Hitchin, said: "The public must get up and fight any moves by the Government to cut out small post offices.

"This is a terrible time for me, it is horrible and any cuts would be unjustified."

Royal Mail currently receives £150m a year from the Government for the network of 9,400 rural post offices but that level of funding is due to stop in March, 2008.

Despite this funding, the post office network lost £111m in 2005.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "There's widespread acceptance that the current size of the network is unsustainable.

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