POST OFFICE – “SAVE OUR POST OFFICE” – WESTMINSTER HALL DEBATE: “FRANCHISING OF CROWN POST OFFICES AND THE EFFECT ON HIGH STREETS AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES”
Further to LTB 010/19 dated 8th January. A three hour debate took place in Westminster Hall last Thursday 10th January regarding the Post Office’s ill-conceived franchising plans.
Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, who initiated the debate, opened the meeting with a strong message for Kelly Tolhurst the BEIS Minister with responsibility for Post Office. Lisa Nandy questioned why Wigan Crown Office, which has been at its town centre site for 134 years, can have survived two world wars and a global financial crash and yet it can’t survive three years of Tory government.
Over 25 MPs participated in the debate, and a key feature of many of their contributions was the condemnation of the Post Office’s privatisation plans per se and also disbelief surrounding the choice of franchise partner – WHSmith which has been voted the worst or second worst retailer on the high street by Which magazine for the last 8 years in a row. Questions were repeatedly asked as to why the government would allow Post Office to waste millions of pounds of public money (in pursuit of TUPE avoidance) to pay off our members and give this excellent public service away to an ailing retailer.
There was also strong criticism over the lack of meaningful public consultation and the Minister was questioned over why the public is not consulted over the principle and concept of franchising the Crown Office to WHSmith, but just on the narrow issues such as accessibility. There were references to a comment made by Roger Gale, Network & Sales Director at the recent APPG for Post Office meeting in which he stated that the franchising strategy was “a commercial decision for us alone”, which consequently renders the “consultation” a sham.
Many MPs called upon the government to instruct the Post Office to suspend its franchise programme and Lisa Nandy summed up with a crucial message to the Minister in her speech as follows:
“I ask the Minister today to place a moratorium on the franchising programme and to bring together stakeholders for a conversation about how to grow the business and make the Post Office fit for future challenges, rather than selling off one of our most valued public services to a failing retailer.”
Disappointingly but unsurprisingly the Minister responded by stating:
“As the Minister, I will not call on Post Office Ltd to stop the franchising process, but I will work with it to ensure that it delivers its business in the best way possible and benefits our communities.”
The Westminster Hall debate was extremely well attended given the current demands on MP’s time in relation to Brexit, although it was disappointing to note the distinct lack of Conservative MPs who failed to attend despite a significant number being affected by Crown Office franchising within their constituencies.
The Minister came under pressure to hold the Post Office to account and to meet again with a group of MPs to listen to their concerns. She agreed to “listen, hold Post Office Ltd to account and take those things forward.”
The Hansard transcript from the debate can be accessed by using the following link:
Video messages supporting the Save Our Post Office campaign on the day of the debate are also available:
Thank you for your continued support in this crucial campaign. Further developments will be reported.
Andy Furey – Assistant Secretary
Terry Pullinger – DGS(P)
Dave Ward – General Secretary