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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Postal blues

by New Worker correspondent

RECENTLY this correspondent’s local franchised Post Office counter vanished and the space replaced with a fast-food outlet selling hot dogs and sausage rolls, which soon became the rival to MacDonalds as the de facto schools meals service of a nearby secondary school.

This is part of a widespread trend. Post Offices are closing and services in surviving establishments fading away.

A recent report by Citizens Advice (CA) entitled Gaps in the Network has shown that 1,291 Post Offices in Britain were “temporarily closed” in September 2021, nearly twice as many as the 662 in September 2017. They are often closed for a significant period of time – more than 80 per cent for over a year. At the same time, one in three rural post offices in Britain are now provided as part-time outreaches, on average they are open only five and a half hours per week.

Despite the internet, nearly one in five (18 per cent) of people visit a Post Office weekly and almost a half (45 per cent) visit monthly. These figures are higher in rural areas. Indeed, they have become more important for providing banking services as many bank branches have closed. The Post Office is now delivering far more parcels and packets to compensate for the decline in letter traffic.

Annabel Barnett, CA senior policy researcher, said: “Urgent action is needed to reverse this trend to ensure that the post office network really is convenient and easily accessible to everyone,” adding that: “When post offices close, people are forced to take on the additional costs and inconvenience of travelling further – which can be particularly challenging in rural areas and for those who face barriers to travelling long distances.”

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) national officer for its Post Office members Andy Furey waded to deplore the Post Office’s long record of attacks on the Crown network, which saw many Crown Offices closed and their services being franchised to chain stores. Furey cited the example of Sudbury in Suffolk, where a fully functioning and purpose-built Crown Post Office served the whole community until 2016.

In that year “Post Office senior management took the unilateral decision to get rid of the premises and hand over the operation to retailer WH Smith. This was despite the expressed opposition of the town, residents, customers and local small businesses alike”.

For a few years “a much-reduced service has been provided from a counter within the WH Smith store”. Late last month however, WH Smith announced their shop was closing, which means more disruption to local services.

Furey also called for “serious investment to make it worthwhile for postmasters to continue offering a service”. He’ll be lucky.