Julian Brazier, our Conservative Party election candidate, has intervened in the Post Office debate by stressing the “urgency of getting the mobile building alternative in place before the Gladstone Road site closes.”
I can’t see anyone in Whitstable arguing with this.
Where some of us might disagree, however, is in the status of the service that will be housed in the new, temporary space. Mr Brazier is on record as saying that “in principle” he has “no problem with the Post Office moving to another store as part of a franchise.”
I’d just like to remind readers that, had the Post Office’s plans come to fruition and the branch been moved into Budgens Invicta as a franchise before that store closed down permanently, we wouldn’t now be talking about a temporary Post Office: we’d be talking about no Post Office at all.
Surely that underlines the dangers of the franchise model for Post Office services in our town.
We also have to be very wary of statements coming out of Post Office HQ.
According to its website, the company has a specific target regarding Crown Post Offices of “turning around the current losses to achieve break-even by March 2015.” They plan to do this by “increasing revenue, improving customer experience and controlling costs.”
In the case of some Post Office branches “controlling costs” means closing them “temporarily” for periods of up to seven years.
If you don’t believe me, look up the Yorkshire Times, Monday 2nd March 2015.
According to that paper “some 38 branches across the region have been shut for longer than 12 months with the average closure lasting more than three years and three months.” The longest has been in the village of Coxwold, its branch having been closed “temporarily” since February 2008.
In Whitstable, Post Office Ltd has known about the impending redevelopment of the Gladstone Road site since 2010, and yet they still haven’t got round to organising a couple of portacabins in the carpark, for which there is already planning permission.
It’s not exactly rocket-science, is it? I hope this is not a sign of things to come.