Last-ditch post office rescue bid faces rejection

A £300,000 offer by Westminster Council to save the post offices in Harrow Road and Formosa Street looks set to be refused. The council made an offer on Wednesday to finance the branches for the next three years but in return the postmasters must sign a c

A £300,000 offer by Westminster Council to save the post offices in Harrow Road and Formosa Street looks set to be refused.

The council made an offer on Wednesday to finance the branches for the next three years but in return the postmasters must sign a contract with the Post Office for five years - leaving them footing the extra £200,000 bill.

The postmasters say this last-ditch attempt to save the branches is completely unaffordable and are reluctant to accept it.

Formosa Street postmaster Dhimant Patel said: "It is not something we can afford to do and there is no way I can accept it.

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"It is good the council is trying to do something but it was never going to be easy and what they have come up with does not make financial sense.

"I could not afford to pay the extra two years and the amount you have to pay the post office every year is enough to open a small business.

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"I am going to keep postage services in the shop and I will also provide DHL and private couriers.

"So residents and small businesses can still post their letters which is great - good for the community."

The Harrow Road post office is due to close on Monday and postmaster Ajay Singhel is still considering the offer.

He said: "To be honest I do not know what I am going to do. The offer is not bad but it is not brilliant.

"I would very much love to be here but there are still some things to be sorted out - it is the nitty gritty stuff.

"I do not know what I am going to do - I am going to wait and see. I was hoping the post office would change its decision but I am disappointed."

The council has been negotiating for months over the future of the two branches which are at the heart of both communities.

It was unwilling to subsidise post offices indefinitely but wanted to allow the postmasters time to develop their businesses and generate a profit.

But the Post Office was unwilling to negotiate the licence fee paid annually by each franchise branch.

Communities boss Cllr Brian Connell admitted the offer is over ambitious. He said: "Despite our best efforts, it is unlikely this will be enough to save these post offices.

"We recognise post offices play an important role within local communities and that is why we have spent months in talks with the Post Office Ltd to try to secure their future.

"Our financial package was based on keeping these private businesses open for the next five years - and ultimately it's the businesses themselves who need to make their own decisions about whether they can continue to pay the huge licence fees."

The branches were culled with more than 100 others in London in the latest round of post office closures announced in May.

Now Harrow Road looks set to close its doors on Monday, to the dismay of the Westbourne community.

Customer and resident Ahmed Hamid said: "There is no hope - it is too late. We are all very sad, it is such a shame. It is disappointing and it is a big loss for Westbourne - the heart of the community is being taken away."

FEB 19: Post Office announces the 170 London offices earmarked for closure including Formosa Street, Harrow Road and Lisson Grove in Westminster. A six-week consultation is announced.

FEB 22: Communities vow to fight the decision to close the three branches and start campaigns to save them. Residents complain the alternative branches are too far away and too inaccessible.

FEB 29: Petitions gather hundreds of signatures and letters of protest flood in to the post office. Westminster Council announces it is considering putting post offices in its own buildings.

MAR 7: A total of 1,300 people have so far signed the petition against Formosa Street closure. Protesters organise a march.

MAR 14: More than 400 campaigners including Blackadder star Tony Robinson turn out in the rain to march from the Formosa Street branch to the St John's Wood branch to prove it is too far and too difficult for older people and the disabled. Harrow Road campaigners claim closure would plunge the area into a downward spiral.

MAR 21: Post Office changes the alternative branches Formosa Street customers should use and they demand extra consultation time as the goalposts have moved. Post Office gives them another six weeks.

APR 4: The then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone announces if he is re-elected, the post offices will be saved.

MAY 9: Closure notices are handed to Lisson Grove and Harrow Road post offices.

JUNE 27: Closure notice handed to Formosa Street. Council announces it is in talks to save Formosa Street and Harrow Road branches.

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