Thursday, 28 February 2008

Post Offices - the hit list

THE Post Office has finally announced which branches it intends to close in a review of the service across West Somerset.
Two villages will be left without a postal service at all, while three others will see their branches replaced by a mobile Post Office which will visit for as little as three hours a week.
Bicknoller and West Quantoxhead are the two doomed to be axed completely, while a mobile library-style service is proposed for Brompton Regis, Wheddon Cross, Kilve, and Lydeard St Lawrence.
West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has vowed to fight the closures wherever possible.
Ironically, Mr Liddell-Grainger’s wife Jill is a voluntary worker in the sub-Post Office in their home village of Bicknoller.
The branch forms part of the village shop, which is owned by a co-operative of residents and runs entirely on voluntary unpaid help.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “I am deeply concerned about any rural service going, especially on the moor and across West Somerset.
“It is inexcusable that the Post Office allows yet another nail in the coffin of rural people.
“Every facility we lose, we become more and more like dormitory villages.
“I have already written to every parish council chairman and postmaster in the villages I am responsible for and I will find out what they want to do.”
In Brompton Regis, postmaster Peter Stringer said the closure would also mean the end of the village stores which he and his wife Jenny also run.
Mr Stringer said: “It will be the death of the shop because the shop cannot stand alone with the loss of income from the full-time Post Office.”
A public meeting is being held in Brompton Regis Village Hall on Friday evening at 7.30 pm for villagers to be fully informed by Mr Stringer of the consequences and to discuss the situation.
Mr Stringer said based on the original criteria used by the Post Office when reviewing its network, he did not expect to be on the closure list.
He said: “I assumed we would not be up for closure, being a remote rural settlement nearly 1,000 feet above sea level which can be cut off in bad weather and no public transport.
Mr Stringer said only last September he had received a 20-year long service award from the Post Office.
“Now, within six months they have given me my redundancy,” he said. “For me, it will mean unemployment and the search for another job, which is difficult in a rural community.”
Mr Stringer predicted the closure programme would see community facilities in many villages being lost as a result.
He said even if the decision was overturned as a result of the consultation process being carried out over the next six weeks, the ‘executioner’s sword’ would continue to hang over them.
“We would like to retire in two to three years’ time, but then we would know the Post Office will not renew the franchise and we would be left with a business which would not have any turnover,” he said. “You know you are on the hit list. You know if you want to sell on, they will not renew it.”
Mr Stringer said the mobile service which in Brompton Regis’ case would visit the village hall car park on Monday and Thursday mornings between 9.30 am and 12 noon, would gradually fade away.
He said customers would not be keen to stand in a queue in the rain when the weather was bad and many would in the meantime be forced to drive elsewhere to use postal services.
Mr Stringer said; “The Post Office is not all about making money. This is a Socialist Government we have, but unfortunately, they have very un-Socialist policies.
“They are ripping the heart out of this community for the sake of a few thousand pounds a year,”
The mobile service proposed for Wheddon Cross will visit the car park beside the Rest and Be Thankful public house for a total of nine hours a week, between 9.30 am and 12.30 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
In Kilve, it will use the village hall car park for three hours on a Tuesday morning, from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm.
And in Lydeard St Lawrence, the village hall car park will be used for six hours, from 2 pm to 5 pm on Tuesday and Thursday.
West Somerset Council’s leader, Councillor Keith Ross, and economic development portfolio holder, Councillor Michael Downes, called on people to speak up for local Post Offices threatened with the chop.
Councillor Ross said: “Public consultation is underway and we will be expressing our concern.
“We would encourage residents in West Somerset to do the same.
“I have already taken up this matter with the Local Government Association, using the Post Office at Brompton Regis as a case study, and I will continue to campaign to keep essential rural Post Offices.
“While I understand that the Government needs to save money and promote efficiency, it should also look at the broader impacts that losing this service is likely to have on rural communities.”
Councillor Downes said: “In outreach service areas, current opening hours are likely to be slashed.
“Village shops and garages will be losing a postmaster or postmistress’s wage which will have a detrimental effect on the whole facility, and may mean that some community shops will have to close.
“This would be a bitter blow for local people who depend on the shops, garages and Post Offices, as well as the local economy as a whole.
“West Somerset has one of the highest elderly populations in the country and many people depend on these shops.
“People who are unable to drive will suffer, and the environment will suffer.
“Drivers will have to use cars to access services that are currently available on their doorsteps, which will increase the local carbon footprint.
“I would urge people to take part in the consultation and make their views known.”
Up to 2,500 Post Office branches are earmarked for closure across the country by the Government following a study which indicated that the public is not using the full range of services offered.
People can take part in the consultation, which runs until April 9, by sending their views in writing to the National Consultation Team, Post Office Ltd, FREEPOST CONSULTATION TEAM (no stamp is required).
The closures are due to take effect from July.
Post Office Ltd regional development manager Tony Jones said: “Taking the decision to close any Post Office branch is always very difficult and we know will cause concern to many of our customers.
“We want to ensure that everybody who uses, relies on or has any concern with Post Office Ltd services is both fully aware of the proposed changes and able to give views on them.”

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