Exmouth campaign to retain current Post Office

Message from an Exmouth campaigner. If you agree, councillors (town, district, county) will need to be contacted.

“I am trying to encourage local community organisations to campaign against the proposed franchising of the Post Office in Exmouth which currently is based in the WH Smith Store to be run from February 2019 by WH Smith. I think this could be very bad for the community and the future of the Post Office as a government organisation for a number of reasons.

1. WH Smith is not a public organisation with a remit to provide a public service. The legal duty of its directors is to maximise shareholder value. Therefore the cost of running a well resourced post office could be in direct opposition to the aims of WH Smith which is to maximise its profits and maintain a viable commercial enterprise.

2. The value added service which the current Post Office staff provide is not directly quantifiable in monetary terms. The Exmouth Post Office provides an invaluable resource to elderly and vulnerable people. It is a safe place for people with dementia; the staff know their customers, many of whom have been using the Post Office for many years so the staff can look after their customers in a range of ways, from safeguarding their financial arrangements to alerting other services if they have concerns over the health and/or welfare of their customers. Recently a customer on a motability scooter was persuaded to wait in the store until the ambulance service was able to help him as staff were rightly concerned that he was on the verge of a heart attack.

3. The current staffing levels will not be guaranteed once WH Smith takes over the running of the Post Office; indeed it has been suggested that there could be as few as two members of staff on duty at any time running the Post Office. This will lead to longer queues which is a real trial for elderly or disabled people.

4. Existing staff have received several months of training to do their job. The CWU contrasts this with the poor training of a few days provided for staff where post offices have been franchised so that mistakes are far more likely to occur. Furthermore with limited staff, the level of personal customer service which is so key to community wellbeing will be lost.

5. Post Office staff who decide to stay may be TUPED over to WH Smith, but a few months down the line, if WH Smith puts forward a business case for reducing pension benefits or other work benefits which are not offered to its other staff, then the TUPED staff will lose those benefits. New staff will not enjoy the same level of benefits as staff formerly in the employ of the Post Office.

6. The Post Office is making a healthy profit up from £13 million to £35 million in 2017/18. It also received £370m in network subsidy from the government. Furthermore, customer numbers have increased at the Post Office with the number of bank branch closures. The continued uncertainty over the stability of the banking sector has made the Post Office an attractive savings option, so it is well placed to continue as a thriving public institution serving communities where private organisations have abandoned their customers.

7. This is not a private commercial organisation which needs to focus primarily on profitability and it should be true to its public service remit. Franchising reduces costs but it is also privatisation by the back door; vital public services suffered a damaging effect when they have had privatised services forced on them. The schools are a prime example of what can happen to public services when the private sector takes them over. Schools have been closed after gaining academy status and being transferred to private hands. This publicly funded asset is lost to the public sector and children lose their school when the academy trust runs into financial difficulties. The Post Office once franchised to WH Smith will be at the mercy of the market place not protected by public funding.

8. WH Smith has had mixed trading fortunes in recent years. It is currently increasing sales but not profits. It has closed 30 stores in the last year and opened 24 new ones but these have been based in travel hubs – bus and rail stations and airports – and hospitals. WH Smith is under no legal obligation to keep stores which it considers insufficiently profitable. The post office services could be lost if this happens in Exmouth.
I think the Post Office has been economical with the truth in its ‘information leaflet’ about the transfer of business to WH Smith. It has not provided the opportunity for the public to comment on whether they want this change or not, just feedback on accessibility issues. This is in no way a consultation; it is a purely commercial decision made by an organisation which should focus on communities not profits.

I hope you will be able to raise these issues on your website.”