Since the early 1980s the number of UK post offices has almost halved, but since around 2009 the number has remained reasonably consistent, and the Post Office Ltd has committed to maintaining around 11,500 branches and continued accessibility for all. However since 2017 we are losing around 1% of post office branches annually. The map below shows the locations of those services lost between April 2018 and January 2019, using Ordnance Survey Openmap data. Only a handful have opened in this time.
The Post Office Ltd is required by government to meet six ‘access criteria.’ Two key criteria are 99% of the UK population to be within 3 miles of their nearest post office outlet, and 90% of the UK population to be within 1 mile of their nearest post office outlet.
By using the population-weighted centroid of a census 2011 output area (around 130 households in England and Wales, and 50 in Scotland), falling within the radius of a post office, we were able to identify the geographic gaps where these criteria were not being met and any regional discrepancies. We also used a 1080m radius for a 15 minute average walk time, to see the patterns of more specific local provision than that being defined by government.
Currently around 81.2% of Great Britain residents (measured as Census 2011 counts) live within a 15 minute walk (measured as 1080m from a branch) of a post office in January 2019. Around 91% live within 1 mile, so our estimates reflect the government national average target. This appears to vary regionally however; whilst the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber are the best served regions, southern regions, Wales and East England do not appear to meet this target. Similar patterns exist for even more localised provision.
Two further government access criteria are for 95% of the total urban and rural populations across the UK to be within one mile and three miles of their nearest post office outlet, respectively. Using the rural-urban classification for England and Wales and Scotland we segmented the analysis to see which regions of the country were serving rural and urban populations better and worse.
Around 2.7% of urban residences nationally do not meet the 1 mile target. For rural populations around 0.6% do not live within 3 miles. The maps below show how this changes regionally.
Scotland and Wales as we might expect due to their more remote populations have the highest levels of rural residents not accessible to a post office. In England this is the East Midlands. East England and the South East have the highest number of residences in urban areas not meeting the 1 mile target, with figures for urban accessibility showing more variance.
This is estimated modelling, so it’s useful to consider the results in the context of error margins. The use of population-weighted centroids is much less accurate in rural areas; these areas are generally bigger, therefore the centroid locations themselves are less accurate. However, census areas are engineered to be a similar sized population and households, and rural populations themselves are by their nature more dispersed, so less likely to be living nearby to services. We can therefore consider these results to be rough estimations.