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Friday, 6 June 2008

Post Offices want a hand up, not a hand out...

Today, Charles Hendry MP ( Shadow Minister for Postal Affairs) came to Bristol to talk about the closure of Wellington Hill West Post Office and 28 others across the city.

(Photo shows Mani Ghuman, from the Federation of Sub Postmasters, me, the Sub Postmaster of Wellington Hill West- David Mothersdill, Charles Hendry MP, and Adrian Mothersdill, assistant sub postmaster.)

True to form, Labour only seem to be able to talk money and subsidies when it come to the saving the post office network. We have pledged to match subsidy on the network to keep it alive, but what Labour cannot seem to understand, is that simply loading money into something is not the answer.

The tragic and infuriating thing about the closure of post offices is that if you actually speak to the sub-postmasters involved, they are itching with ideas as to how to make their post office outlet competitive. Sub-Postmasters don't want to exist on Government subsidy, but on business success.
Sub-Postmasters don't want to exist on Government subsidy, but on business success.

Many sub-post masters wanted to offer all sorts of services - mobile top ups, council counters but were prevented from doing so by Post Office ltd. When Post Office ltd. finally caught onto the fact that these were good things, the post masters had missed the boat and other stores had cornered the market. Even now, sub-post masters have been constrained in their drive to make their business a going venture instead of a subsidy dependent appendage of the state.

Labour MPs who voted for the closure of post office branches ( including all Bristol Labour MPs, except Kerry McCarthy who, I understand , was not present for the vote ) whitter on pathetically about Tories and subsidies. The point is, that whilst we have pledged to match the subsidies, the Post Office network shouldn't NEED the subsidies. It is full of bright entrepreneurs who want to inject vitality and health into the network to make it more self-sustaining.

Before we start closing down our valuable and irreplaceable community network of Post Offices, let's liberate the Post Masters to really make a go of it, as so many are itching to do. Only then, when we have liberated Post Offices to compete in the modern world, reassessed the amount of subsidy that the post office needs in that light, should we even begin to think about closing any down. Closures before that point are little less than the unnecessary decimation of hundreds of communities.


James Barlow said...

I was recently chatting to a Postmaster in Bristol West with Nick Yarker (PPC) and the local council candidate Phil Thompson. We heard the same views - in essence that politicians shouldn't presume to know more than shop owners about what customers want.

I'm not a fan of subsidies, but I can see the need to keep them going until the dead hand of government is removed from the situation.

Northern Lights said...

Is 'liberating' the Post Office the same as privatising it?

Considering 3 out of 4 branches are unprofitable (Pat McFadden - a recent edition of the Politics Show) and in the opposition debate on 19 March 2008, Alan Duncan said that a Conservative Government would NOT match Government subsidies up to 2011 (Hansard, Column 950) wouldn't this 'liberation' just lead to further closures?

Or has the Conservative position changed since then?

Charlotte Leslie said...

Thanks for your comment, Northern Lights. If you speak to sub-postmasters, there are lots of thing that Post Office Ltd. could allow them to do to make them more viable which do not amount to anything like privatisation. Things as simple as extended counter hours for one. The reason you don't hear sub-postmasters jumping up and down about this is because they have been effectively gagged by their contracts. One squeak against Post Office ltd. and a sub-postmaster facing closure could lose his compensation package. That kind of threat is a major barrier to getting to the bottom of how the Post Office network can be improved - those who can tell us most are being threatened by their contracts in case they say too much. As I said in my post, the whole point is that the subsidies do not need to be so much. That is the starting point.