Geoforum, 47 pp 53-64
There has been a longstanding interest in the impacts of socio-spatial variations in accessibility to public and private services in both urban and rural contexts. Previous studies have found that rural communities are often disproportionately impacted in accessibility terms by changes in service configuration. The aim of this study is to examine such claims in the context of changes to a key public service in the UK, namely the post office network, and potential implications in terms of spatial patterns of accessibility for the elderly across Wales. The postal service continues to undergo transformation that, it is postulated, will have major implications for users in different settings. The loss of permanent services, or changes in the number of products offered at a fixed or outreach branches, can be expected to have negative consequences for those most dependent on the service for paying bills, accessing financial products or obtaining vehicle licenses for example. Surveys by consumer bodies have identified the elderly as a group proportionately more likely to use post office services and as a consequence they are potentially more vulnerable to the impacts of network changes. Drawing on a Geographical Information System (GIS)-based analysis of changes of accessibility prior to, and following a recent Network Change Programme, findings presented in this paper do not support a clear rural–urban division in terms of the association between those output areas with high elderly populations and reduced access to (and choice of) post office branches. More research is needed however to examine variations in the availability of the different types of products being offered both under current levels of provision and in relation to newly proposed network transformation programmes.