The Post Office could transform its future by supporting branches to take a more entrepreneurial approach, including providing access to digital training courses and public services such as health centres, as well as servicing the needs of a growing community of microbusinesses, an RSA report has suggested.
Making the Connection concluded that if the Post Office network is to thrive in the face of challenges, including the decline of the high street and increasing online competition, it will be essential for branches to experiment with new business models.
The report found that a number of Subpostmasters are already trialling new products and services for their customers with the support from the Post Office’s Community Enterprise Fund.
The report recommended, however, that branches should also aim to draw in new customers by becoming ‘Community Enterprise Hubs’ – through which a wider range of support and activities can be accessed.
Post Office branches are well placed to respond to current trends such as the UK’s growing microbusiness community, an ageing population, isolation amongst older people, and the focus on Big Society approaches to public service reform, the report said.
Whilst recognising the steps that many current Subpostmasters have taken towards evolving their businesses, the report concludes that attracting more entrepreneurs into the community of Subpostmasters, including more young people, would help the Post Office respond to a rapidly changing business environment.
The report recommended that Post Office branches build on their trusted brand through providing a range of new activities such as:
Business support to the growing number of home-based businesses and SME’s.
Selling local firms’ products and supporting fledgling entrepreneurs
Providing access to the internet and digital training courses
Advice on affordable finance or changes to welfare, including the introduction of Universal Credit and personal budgets in social care
Proving employment and training opportunities to local people
Co-hosting public services such as local health centres, running prescription collections services and passing on messages to GPs
Making the Connection found that the Post Office has already taken several steps towards supporting Subpostmasters to engage in entrepreneurial activities – including through a Community Enterprise Fund as well as a £2 billion investment in modernising local branches.
However, it found that some Post Office branches could benefit from drawing on the experience of pioneering branches that have already become Community Enterprise Hubs. Despite providing essential services to their communities, most Post Office branches are still some way from being the kind of community enterprise hubs called for in the report.
Commenting on the report, Subpostmaster Danielle Barnes said:
“We see our Post Office as an invaluable addition the Community Hub which we have been developing in Port Clarence. Any Subpostmaster will tell you it is hard work, but the Post Office opens up so many opportunities for us to have a real impact in the community at the same time as generating revenue for our Hub. Since starting we have already brought together a crèche, health centre and IT suite to sit alongside our branch.”
Commenting on the report, Post Office’s Communications and Corporate Affairs Director Mark Davies said:
“Whilst Post Office is changing to become a customer-focussed multi-channel retailer, we remain fully committed to our public purpose. As an inclusive locally-driven approach to business becomes more important, we are uniquely placed to support local economies through our branches, which are at the heart of communities across the UK.
“We are investing in our network to help Subpostmasters modernise branches and improve their retail offer. At the same time, initiatives such as the Community Enterprise Fund are enabling branches to support the unique needs of their community through innovative schemes.
“We welcome the recommendations contained within Making the Connection, which will help both current and potential Subpostmasters to explore both new commercial ventures and at the same time play a vital role at the heart of their communities.”
Commenting on the report, RSA Senior Researcher, Benedict Dellot said:
“We are seeing growing economic, social and technological shifts towards the ‘local’ - where people increasingly live, work, consume and produce in tightly bound areas. Post Office branches now have the perfect opportunity to renew their relevance in many people’s lives.
The task for Post Office, government and local authorities is to foster the environment where Subpostmasters can achieve their full potential by transforming into Community Enterprise Hubs. This will require a number of new directions for Post Office branches, from promoting a culture of entrepreneurialism to changing recruitment practices and transforming the very notion of what it means to be a Subpostmaster.”
The report made a large number of proposals that would help secure a positive future for Post Office branches, including:
Matching Subpostmasters with entrepreneurs-in-residence who could support them transform their branch
Expanding the opportunities for Subpostmasters to collaborate – working together in local clusters
Establishing a structured career pathway into Post Office branches with a focus on entrepreneurial skills, including through a new Subpostmaster Apprenticeship Scheme
Fast tracking the serial Subpostmasters who want to run multiple Post Office branches
Inviting social entrepreneurs to become the next generation of Subpostmasters
Harnessing the latent potential of Post Office data to ensure public services better understand the needs of the local population.
Notes to editors
1. For more information contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970 or firstname.lastname@example.org
2. The RSA report looked at a number of case studies of Post Offices already functioning as Community Enterprise Hubs, including in:
Llangadog, South West Wales
Port Clarence, Stockton
Belsize Park, London
Hollins Road, Oldham