RESIDENTS could soon pay council bills and parking fines at Oxfordshire post offices in a pilot scheme designed to safeguard branches.

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council are looking to work with post offices to see if they can save money and support the community facilities.

Oxfordshire is just one of 25 areas nationally that will trial the scheme, with post offices offering council services like taking payments for business rates, licence fees, council tax, and parking fines.

The news comes three years after 22 branches were shut across Oxfordshire.

Former Grandpont postmaster Dharmaraj Prasad whose branch closed in 2008, welcomed the new initiative. He said: “It is right to do this and put the customer first and protect the people working there. People need a post office and this is good news.”

Long Wittenham Post Office closed in the summer of 2008 and villager Anne Byard, 58, also welcomed the latest news.

She said: “It is too late for us but if we lost the one at Clifton Hampden it would be a nightmare. It would just isolate people. Post offices are the heart of the community – an informal meeting place.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “It has to be welcomed as we want to defend our post offices. But there is still this issue where post offices close due to some other reason and aren’t replaced.

“There still could be a creeping loss of post offices and we need to see action to see them reopened.”

County council spokesman Gemma Watts said: “Oxfordshire County Council has agreed to become one of 25 ‘pathfinder’ authorities to link with the Post Office Ltd to help improve its services. The outcome is still under discussion.”

Jean Fooks, city councillor for Summertown, said: “Enabling more council services to be offered through the post office is a saving for the councils and therefore the council taxpayers “This is the start of a relaunched and rejuvenated post office that will be more convenient for people.”

Post offices were last month handed a lifeline after a deal with the Royal Mail guaranteed them enough business to survive for 10 years. The Government also pledged £1.34bn to help postmasters keep services running.

As of April last year, 356 post office branches had closed in the South East in the past five years. There were 1,410 remaining.

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