An Post's troubles push up stamp prices

Unavoidable if the postal service intends to meet its April wage bill...

An Post has confirmed that the cost of a national stamp is set to rise from 72 cent to €1.

It means the cost of a postage stamp will jump by 28 cent.

The under-fire postal services provider has said that the 28 cent increase is about ensuring a continuity of service and that it will now be correctly priced in line with other European countries.

An Post chief executive David McRedmond told The Irish Times on Tuesday night that "a price increase is an essential measure for the company" and that it would not be able to meet its €10 million weekly wage bill in April unless the hike was immediately introduced.

Legislation abolishing a cap on the price of stamps passed through the Seanad last night and will be signed into law by President Michael D Higgins this week.

According to the Irish Independent, an unpublished report put together for the company by businessman Bobby Kerr outlines a range of proposals – including the shutting of 80 branches.

McRedmond has admitted that, while he does not know how many branches will close, any post office that is not in walking distance of anywhere should not realistically survive the cull.

There are currently 1,300 post offices around the country, and the company is losing around €12 million a year from its branch network.

Charlie Weston, personal finance editor at the Irish Independent, told Newstalk Breakfast on Tuesday:

"There is a network of about 1,300 post offices out there, but something like 500 of them [...] are loss-making. Some of them are heavily loss-making – some of them do very little activity other than give out pensions, sell the odd stamp.

"It just can't be sustained - so the Bobby Kerr report identified 80 of the biggest loss-makers and said maybe they should close. None of this is finalised... An Post themselves are looking at it."

He added: "They're looking for a large chunk of money from the Government. Obviously a post office is not just a business – it's vital social activity in a town. You lose a post office branch, it really sucks the heart out of a town or village. So this could be quite controversial."

While the potential closures is among the most significant suggestions, Mr Weston described the report as "very broad and very balanced".

"It's not a slash-and-burn report," he observed. "He does have a large number of proposals, to ensure the future of post offices. It can't go on at the moment as is – if you're losing up to €12m a year, something will have to give."

Additional reporting by Stephen McNeice