The Post Office should be turned into a mutual run for the public benefit, according to a new report from Co-operatives UK, the umbrella body for the cooperative sector.
The report, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, recommends a structure in which subpostmasters, employees, customer groups and community representatives could all be members and owners of the Post Office, which manages the national network of branches, but is separate from Royal Mail.
Of the Post Office's 11,500 branches, 97 per cent are run by independent private operators, most of whom are subpostmasters running a single business.
The report says there is often tension between subpostmasters and the Post Office on issues such as pay and online services, and these would be reduced if subpostmasters had a stake in the organisation.
It says that extending ownership to every customer should not be ruled out, but might not be practical at an early stage.
Edward Davey, Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, said the report "paints an exciting picture of what a mutualised Post Office could look like".
Davey said: "Mutualisation will work only if the key parties involved want to make it happen and believe it to be the best way forward. It is not something that can be imposed from above by the government. We will carefully consider this report before launching a public consultation later this year, so that everyone can have their say."
The Communication Workers Union said that the mutualisation agenda was a distraction and staff would not be interested in taking on debt through mutualisation.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: "We believe government investment and commitment to providing government services through post offices is needed to keep post offices open.
"There is no evidence that distancing the Post Office from government by mutualising it will help. If anything, it will make it harder for the Post Office to win government business to keep branches open."