Yesterday’s Suffolk Day celebrations were a wonderful expression of the pride we take in living and working in the best county! From Felixstowe to Framlingham, Suffolk was brimming with celebrations of all sorts. For myself and my fellow Suffolk MPs, we marked the date with a ‘Suffolk Day in Parliament’ celebration of our own, showcasing some of our fine food, drink and entertainment and taking Suffolk to the rest of the country.
Yet amongst all the celebrations, there is practical argument here for communicating what Suffolk and indeed Bury St Edmunds delivers. As a net contributor to the UK economy, the eastern region is teeming with potential and as an East Anglian MP it is my motivator to make that argument whenever I can.
However, a frustration I share with constituents is in the sense that Bury, Stowmarket and other dynamic parts of our county loose out. One such example has been in the steady degradation of local post office branches, including temporary services in Badwell Ash as well as the permanent closure of services in Botesdale, Walsham-le-Willows, Great Bricett and St Olaves to name but a few.
With an older average population, many residents in my constituency and indeed across Suffolk rely upon a local post office for cash, banking and pensions and will frequently base their choice of final home on their proximity to such services.
Furthermore Rural England statistics show that, more generally, the post office is a focal point in the community; with a recent survey finding that 98% of rural residents use a post office whilst 31% visit theirs at least weekly.
With the rolling back of high street bank branches in favour of online options, the local village post office almost certainly has a greater role. Especially true for more vulnerable residents, the immediacy of nearby banking services is an important consideration in this digital age where they can be targeted by financial scams.
That is why I have been vocal in my efforts to work with the Post Office and just recently I wrote to the Chief Executive Paula Vennells, to demand clarity in their rural programme and the services they deliver.
I was therefore touched to receive messages of support from affected constituents, concerned and frustrated by the feeling that we are falling behind. Whilst figures show that 98% of the rural population live within three miles of a post office outlet, statistics can’t capture the lived experience of local people.
That is why my sense is to push hard and draw attention to the needs and interests of local people in Bury, Stowmarket and across the whole of Suffolk. Suffolk Day is one way of doing this, but I am clear in my determination to support our way of life.