Why your post office is moving

THE post office in Letchworth GC should stay where it is. That is what the people of the town are telling us in the scores of letters we have received backing our campaign to stop the busy, central post office being moved to a small convenience store. Co

THE post office in Letchworth GC should stay where it is.

That is what the people of the town are telling us in the scores of letters we have received backing our campaign to stop the busy, central post office being moved to a small convenience store.

Comet reporter HANNAH GRAY asked Post Office Ltd network service manager Tony Marsh, the man who will be making the final recommendations on what should happen in Letchworth GC, to explain their proposals and to respond to residents' criticisms.

The Comet has been inundated with responses to our campaign to stop the post office move. Are you determined to go ahead with the move despite strong public opposition to it?

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We have clearly said that the decision to run the post office as a franchise has been taken in principle.

We are making changes to do our best to ensure that post offices can survive and thrive into the future. They cannot continue indefinitely running at a loss.

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Some people are saying that they don't want change but the nature of post office business has significantly changed. Ten years ago, the majority of business transacted across our counters was on behalf of Government departments. With the withdrawal of the post office card account in 2010, the network's revenue from work done for the Government will be less than 10 per cent of business.

We're doing a lot to fill the gap and have introduced a wide range of new products and services. But we still need to reduce costs and franchising is a means of doing this whilst keeping a main post office, with all services, in a locality.

Why is your consultation limited to the opening hours, access arrangements and facilities, rather than whether or not it should be moved in the first place?

How we run our post offices cannot be something for local referendums. We have to manage from a national and local perspective - every post office is part of our national network of 14,500 post offices and we have to take actions to help that network survive into the future.

The consultation is about the things that affect our customers - the opening hours, the access and facilities.

We have heard that staff are being offered other jobs or voluntary redundancy. Can you confirm this?

Yes. We are talking to staff about their preferences. Everyone who wants to remain working for our company can do so. We are not making anyone compulsorily redundant.

Do you have a buyer for the current building, and if so, who is it?

No. There are no confirmed plans at the moment.

Is it true there is a covenant on the building which means it can only be used as a post office?

There is currently a restriction but this does not prohibit our plans in any way and it remains vital for the future of the Post Office that we pursue our franchising policy.

It is not in anyone's interest for the covenant to remain in the future of course so the building can be used in the best way possible for Letchworth. Discussions about this are under way with the freeholder.

What do you say to the criticisms that the new post office will be smaller and more difficult for residents - particularly the elderly - to get to?

The post office will have sufficient counters and space. There are currently seven counters at the main post office but these are not all used and there will be five at the new office. The new post office will be accessible for people with disabilities. Its opening hours will be longer and the range of services will remain the same. The post office is moving a short distance - 450 yards - and remains accessible by public transport.

We strongly believe this franchise partnership is the way to safeguard community post office services and that there are no significant disadvantages.

How will an undoubtedly smaller branch cope with the volume of customers given that people can sometimes be faced with large queues at the existing branch?

The new branch is being planned for the level of business that is carried out. We manage staffing levels to keep waiting times reasonable during busy periods and this will happen at the new post office. Our franchisees are under contract to us to deliver good standards of service and it is in their commercial interests to do so. We are all interested in ensuring a successful, profitable post office as that will protect its future.

You say there have been losses across the network in the last year. Can you give us a figure for how much the Letchworth branch specifically has lost?

No, because like any business offering competitive products and services these figures are commercially sensitive. The key point is that the network of directly-managed post offices as a whole lost £50 million and Letchworth is included in that.

We are addressing our financial challenges through introducing new profitable products and services and at the same time reducing our costs. The franchising policy is a proven way of running viable and sustainable post offices - we have more than 300 successful franchised post offices.

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