Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Post Office Closure Public Meeting

The City Council hosted a public meeting last night on how Labour's Post Office closure plan will affect Cambridge. The panel consisted of two Post Office representatives, a representative of the independent watchdog Postwatch and four local politicians.

Unfortunately, since the Lib Dems forced the council to change the date of the meeting to allow their own MP to attend, instead neither Chris Howell nor South Cambridgeshire Conservative MP Andrew Lansley were able to be present. However, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Richard Normington (left in photo) was on the panel to put the case for loosening Labour's constraints on Post Offices, allowing them to become commercially viable and therefore survive as the key community resource that they are.

In a refreshing outbreak of agreement between politicians, all agreed that Post Offices are vital for some sections of the community as well being valuable to virtually everyone. However, Labour's parliamentary hopeful was looking a little isolated as he tried to defend his party's indefensible plan.

An important message that came out of the discussions was that while we should all put the case to defend the specific post offices that are under threat, such as St John's on Hills Road, we must also tell the government what we think about their rigid target to lose 2500 Post Offices, in the hope that they will change their minds. Considering how many U-turns Gordon Brown has performed in the last year and that 20 of his own MPs rebelled over Post Offices, we shouldn't give up on trying to replace the plan at the top level. While your local Labour representatives haven't opposed the plans in public yet, we hope that they are putting pressure on their Westminster colleagues in private.

The most productive element of the meeting was discussion of ideas for how to make Post Offices more commercially viable. This is the cornerstone of the Conservative Post Office Action Plan:

The key parts of our plan are:
  • Freeing up Sub-Postmasters
  • Using Post Offices as Government GP service
  • Campaigning on the Post Office Card Account
  • Encouraging 'Council Counters'
The importance of freeing up Sub-Postmasters was emphasised when a Sub-Postmaster for elsewhere in the county mentioned that she had been asking to be allowed to offer popular extra services at her branch but was not allowed to do so.

The great tragedy about the closure plan is that so much of it could be avoided. The fact that profitable branches could close under the scheme illustrates how ill-thought out it is, while the fact that branches can only be saved at the expense of others shows how uncaring it is.

The deadline for responses to the formal consultation is 26th August 2008. Responses must be sent by e-mail to consultation@postoffice.co.uk or by post to:

National Consultation Team
Post Office Ltd

It is recommended that responses are copied to Postwatch at info@postwatch.co.uk or "FREEPOST POSTWATCH".

According to Post Office Limited, responses must refer to errors and omissions from the Branch Access Reports drawn up for Post Offices targeted for closure. See pages 49, 55, 61 for Cambridge branches. Further guidance is available from the City Council.

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