MPs have vowed to fight plans to close 56 West Midlands post offices.
Post Office Ltd will publish proposals on Tuesday to close 26 branches in Birmingham, three in Solihull and one in Meriden. Branch cuts in Coventry and Warwickshire will bring the number to 51.
Another five in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, will be replaced by “outreach” services, such as a mobile post office with limited opening hours.
Shadow Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield) said he was “deeply concerned”, and blamed the Government for failing to ensure post offices had enough business.
But Labour MP Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr) warned the Royal Mail Group – which owns post office company Post Office Ltd – had failed to understand post offices were essential services.
He said: “It sees them as a business, when they are much more than that. One of the questions we may need to consider is whether Royal Mail should lose responsibility for post offices.”
Today’s announcement is likely to anger customers who will have to travel miles to pay bills, collect pensions and send or pick up parcels.
But Post Office Ltd says the closures are needed because of falling customer numbers and the increasing use of the internet to access services like television licences and car tax renewal.
The network has lost four million customers over two years and makes a loss of £3.5 million a week. It receives a subsidy of £150 million each year from taxpayers
Earlier this week a leaked list of Birmingham branches facing the axe was published. On top of the 24 branches named in that list, two more have been earmarked for closure – Victoria Road Post Office, in Upper Sutton Street, Ladywood, and Witton Road Post Office, in Witton Road, Aston.
Post Office Ltd will today launch a consultation which is set to continue until August 4.
In its documents, it will warn: “The purpose of this local public consultation is to obtain your views on Post Office Ltd’s proposals, to ensure that the branches that are ultimately selected for closure, or for closure and replacement with an outreach service, are appropriate.
“From the onset of the network change programme, Post Office Ltd has made it clear in its communications that the programme is not designed to provide a forum for debate about whether branches should close, but it is about ensuring that Post Office Ltd has the best available knowledge to allow it to make the most informed decisions about which branches should close.”
The document states that changes to the network are needed “in order to put it on a more stable footing”.
It adds: “At present, the area’s two million residents are served by a total of 349 branches. Usage of post office branches is falling, in line with national trends, as more customers access services at other places, make more use of the internet and have their government benefits paid directly into bank accounts.”
Mr Mitchell said the Government should do more to encourage people to use post offices.
He said: “Unlike under the Tories, where we made sure that post offices had additional business to keep them open, Labour has starved them of business.
“Then they can’t make a profit.
“Obviously I’m particularly concerned about the two proposed closures in Sutton Coldfield, but the effects of these closures will be very serious across the whole of Birmingham.”
Mr Mahmood said he would speak to Pat McFadden, the Wolverhampton MP and Trade Minister responsible for post offices.
He said: “We have a petition going to the council to ask them to try to stop the closures and to co-ordinate the responses to the consultation across Birmingham.
“I also plan to speak to the Minister concerned and see how it goes.”
See our interactive map for the Post Offices that have been highlighted for closure.