by Daphne Liddle
CAMPAIGNERS, pensioner groups and trade unions last week roundly condemned last Tuesday’s announcement of plans to close 169 London post offices plus 11 Crown post offices in the near future. That is one fifth of all London post offices and is part of a wider plan to close 25,000 post offices nationwide.
The Post Office claims that 90 per cent of Londoners will notice no difference.
Andy Furey, a national official of the Communication Workers’ Union, said: “London is disproportionately suffering from the Network Change closure programme, having already lost 30 per cent of its post offices since 2004.
“If these new closures and franchises go ahead then post offices in London will have been reduced by nearly 45 per cent since 2004. In addition to the 169 Post Offices today proposed for closure, a further 11 Crown Offices are set to close in the coming months at the cost of 170 jobs.
“To claim that these closures and franchising proposals will not affect local services is wilfully naïve. Franchising is not a viable option as it undermines the sustainability of the network by placing public service provision in the hands of private businesses.
“We believe the current network is sustainable but it needs investment from Government and a collaborative approach to business plans from Post Office Limited.”
He added: “The Post Office’s accounts, which recorded such heavy losses in the past financial year, have got the fingerprints of ministers all over them.
“The situation is quite clear. Unless the Government accepts it has a responsibility to maintain the Crown office network, the business will seek to make more savings and shut more offices.”
Amicus, which represents post office managers, will call for a review to improve efficiency and productivity. National officer Peter Skyte said: “Without further action by Government and the public, this will be the last post for Britain’s post office network.”
A spokesperson for the Greater London Pensioners’ Association told the New Worker: “Obviously we are very much against any closures of post offices. We have not yet discussed this latest round of closures but we would strongly object in principle to any closures.
“If the Government can find £55 billion to save Northern Rock then it should be easy to find the £3 million a week they claim it takes to keep all of the country’s post offices open.”
The announcement of the imminent closures comes after Post Office Limited’s consultations exercise – though the results will not be published until after the May local elections. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: “Post office closures is a big political issue. It reduces the footprint of the network and threatens the universal service. The Post Office provides services which are worthy of investment and the current subsidy is a pittance compared to what other institutions receive.
“We don’t think the consultation process is adequate. It appears that even after consulting, POL will close the same number of offices as they initially earmarked.”
Andy Furey also commented on plans to franchise Post Office services to branches of WH Smith.
He said: “There is no evidence of communities anywhere in the country supporting closing or franchising of post offices.
“The closure and franchising programme has led to an abuse of public funds as staff have been offered tempting severance packages, but the reality is that WHSmith don’t want to pay for our members.
“Franchising undermines the sustainability of the network by placing public service provision in the hands of private businesses. If WHSmith were to go bust there is no guarantee that the 70 franchises it has taken on would remain. There appears to be a serious lack of planning in the process which concerns us deeply.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone also opposes the cuts and has said he will call for a judicial review of the decision.