Post Office closures debate branded sham

RESIDENTS and politicians have accused Post Office bosses of running a sham consultation process for failing to provide any figures on the profits made by individual post offices

Charlotte Newton

RESIDENTS and politicians have accused Post Office bosses of running a "sham consultation process" for failing to provide any figures on the profits made by individual post offices.

Haringey Council hosted a public meeting with representatives of the Post Office, Post Watch and the Federation of Sub Postmasters to discuss the potential closure of six precious post offices.

Post Office boss Sally Hopkins opened the discussion by explaining that the government has earmarked 2,500 post offices for closure because the network is currently making a loss of £3.5million a week.

She said fewer people are using Post Office branches, partly because traditional services, including benefit payments and other services, are now available online or directly through banks.

"The issue is not whether we will close post offices in Haringey, but whether we are closing the right ones.

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"The overarching idea is that 99 per cent of the population will be within three miles of a post office and 90 per cent of the population will be within one mile of a post office after the closures," Ms Hopkins said.

She also said that the network hopes to save £45million from the cull.

But residents and councillors have accused the Post Office of running a flawed consultation process for using financial arguments to justify the closure of post offices, without providing any figures to substantiate their claims.

Highgate Cllr Bob Harris said: "We need to know the current running costs of post offices and how much will be saved by their closure.

"How can we argue against the closure of individual branches if we do not have that information to hand? It makes the public consultation a sham. Until you change your strategy, you'll never convince us this is a real public consultation."

Ms Hopkins replied: "This financial information is commercially sensitive which our competitors - such as Paypoint and Payzone - would be interested in.

"But I would certainly challenge your allegation that this consultation is a sham."

Crouch End Cllr Dave Winskill demanded to know on what basis the Government had chosen 2,500 post offices for the axe.

He said: "The government has mandated for 2,500 post offices to close. Where does this magical figure come from? Why not 5,000 or 1,000? Why are we closing down profitable post offices and dismantling the network? The social as well as the economic costs of this are huge and we need to know the context of why they are doing this."

Other councillors and residents questioned the Post Office's business strategy.

Cllr Gideon Bull, who chaired the meeting, accused the Post Office of not behaving in a competitive manner. He said: "Post Office Ltd is deliberately not working out a sustainable business strategy because the government will always bail it out."

Muswell Hill councillor Gail Engert said: "I'm simply not convinced by your business plan. What changes are you making to your business strategy to ensure that we will not be back here in 2011?"

Gordon Forbes, chairman of the Highgate Society, criticised government ministers for ducking the electorate's concerns.

He said: "Closing Highgate Post Office will have a very serious detrimental effect on the rest of the village. We have 1,790 signatures against the closure of post offices and that is without the hundreds of emails we've received.

"If anyone should be present here, it should be the Minster for Communities, Hazel Blears. We are a community and the politicians who are making these decisions should be taking note. Where the hell are they?"

Officers from Haringey Council have now submitted an official written response to the Post Office, calling for the process to be suspended because the consultation has been flawed.