Post Office closures

We must confess to being ambivalent about the fate of post offices. In fact, we've always considered the fact that "the countryside" gets so worked up about closures as evidence that the countryside communities aren't everything they're cracked up to be by Daily Mail readers.

If your community relies on a dingy spot to buy stamps and pay your TV license, then it's a pretty fragile sort of a community in the first place. Give us Brockley MAX, the Broca and the Telegraph Hill Festival any day of the week.

And as for people who rely on their services, we're still not convinced that they offer much that other shops and the internet can't do better. The digitally dispossessed? Not as long as there are public libraries offering free access.

However, we never expect to be in the majority on this kind of issue and those who think Post Offices are national treasures will be heartened by Mayor Bullock's latest pronouncement:

Mayor condemns Post Office closure announcement but pledges to fight on

Sir Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, has condemned an announcement made today that three local post offices are to be closed. Hither Green Lane, Lee and New Cross Road post offices have been earmarked for closure this Autumn.

Commenting he said: "This is unacceptable. The decision flies in the face of local opinion and will be condemned by councillors of every party in Lewisham. Lewisham residents have been let down by Post Watch - the so called ‘watchdog for Postal services’. Their failure to oppose these closures, undermined the case made by the Council and many others locally.

“This battle is not over yet. I will look at what further options are open, including legal action, and an investigation of other ways in which those post offices can be kept open."

Brockley's services remain untouched.

24 comments:

Brockley Kate said...

"Not as long as there are public libraries offering free access."

That's all well and good in London and I agree with your to a large extent in that geographical context. But in rural communities the situation is so totally different; post offices are often the only amenity available. How are those most dependent on their local post office to get to their libraries, other shops and services? They're often an expensive and very infrequent bus ride away.

fabhat said...

It's also useful for the services you can only get at the PO - much as I dislike the monopoly the royal mail has - and the incompetence bred by it, I rely on nearby PO's for sending things special delivery, picking up parcels and buying large amounts of stamps, in the numbers that I want as opposed to a divisible by 12 1st or 2nd class stamps only. I'm luck though, cos there are at least two within walking distance for me.

Anonymous said...

Also they take into account the demographic of users of post offices. Otherwise it is just inconsiderate to tell people particularly senior generation to just get on with it and welcome to the digital age.

Brockley Nick said...

@Kate

I know, I know. But I still don't really have any sympathy. If you live in the countryside, you get the green fields, low crime rates and relatively big houses. The price you pay for these things is that you live a long way away from things. If you want handy services, move to a city. City dwellers already cross-subsidise people in the country by paying flat rates for utlities, even though it is vastly more expensive to supply gas and electricity to rural locations than urban ones.

If they are providing a genuinely useful service for enough people they will pay for themselves. And there are, of course, alternatives. Put post office services in a shop. Create mobile post offices. Pool together to create communal internet access, eg: at a local pub or church hall. etc.

fabhat said...

I like the idea of a mobile post office driving along slowly, with the postman pat theme as it's "stop me and buy one" tune as old ladies run down the street waving their pension books (not sure if they exist anymore)...

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - again, I do agree with you up to a point. But of course older people are now the biggest users of the internet in the UK. In a minority of cases where people are genuinely unable to get to grips with the internet (and there are plenty of resources to help people learn) there are alternatives to paying a massive subsidy to keep poorly run, unprofitable services open. Eg: outsource services to other businesses.

Brockley Kate said...

"If you live in the countryside, you get the green fields, low crime rates and relatively big houses."

I think you've got a very narrowly middle-class 'Relocation Relocation'-type perspective on this, Nick - in fact, I may call you Phil Spencer from now on! ;-)

I've been to working class villages and estates in isolated areas where geographical mobility was shockingly low - for example in parts of Cornwall where the kids hadn't even seen the sea before. These communities are the kind of places where no other business finds it economic to open up.

There are problems with the Post Office being run as a state-subsidised enterprise, but the answer is not to shut off its services to the communities most in need.

Moira said...

You say that Brockley post offices stay untouched: that is because two on Brockley Road were closed in recent years. One next to or where the Brockley Kitchen is, and one near Mr Lawrences. There was an outcry about these too, but they still closed.

Anonymous said...

it seems reasonable to expect that post offices adapt to serve the population around them. So, in a place like brockley, we have some yuppies (like me) who'd give anything to collect a package after 7pm; and older people, who might like to combine a trip to the post office to pay a bill, with a look-in at Crofton Park library (which is reasonably well served by buses, which they can ride free). But 3 post offices on a 1-mile stretch of brockley road, none of which are remotely convenient to a 9-5 working customer base, is just silly. Of course they closed.

patrick1971 said...

I can't speak for Hither Green and Lee, but if the one on New Cross Road is the one I'm thinking of, it really could be closed. There are three within a fifteen minute walk; one next to Barclays at New Cross Gate, one in that parade of shops just past the Venue, and one at the end of Deptford High Street. The middle one of these (actually a counter at the back of another shop) could surely easily close without too much hardship to the general population of SE14/SE8.

APP&P Troll said...

What? You're talking economics on this thread too???

Criky, I hate being a troll...!!!

Cllr Dean Walton said...

Recently I took issue with the Cllr Jackie Addision (Crofton Park) when she invoked the image of 'old ladies collecting their pension' as a reason to support the Lewisham £3M+ Wardens Service - I pointed out that many people are now paid state pension and benefits directly to bank accounts and that the tradition of 'Pension Day' had pretty much gone. She decided to find some other way of demonstrating that the wardens service was worth £3M+.

However, back to this issue I really believe that there is a clear role for a post-office type service within easy distance of most people. The types of service that could be offered:

1) Freedom passes & other concessionary fares (I think they may do this already - someone may know)
(2) Congestion charge payments
(3) Expand the range of 'traditional' services available - typically services available at various sub-post offices were far more limited than
those at the larger (Crown??) post offices - with modern technology this just should not need to happen
(4) Payment of parking fines, permits etc
(5) The ability to deposit documents, letters, application forms to local public bodies - the Council, NHS etc for free - this would be popular and would increase the footfall into post offices
(6) The provision of a private space where residents can use a free public phone to speak to Councils, benefits offices, use the internet for online
services from these bodies. Perhaps space can be booked up. I would see the emphasis on providing internet access for those people needing to communicate with public bodies rather than the more free-ranging access provided by libraries.
(7) Key card payments and the like (many may already do this) - but I think it is a useful service to insist on providing - until we manage to get rid of pre-payment meters altogether the issues of fuel poverty

In short anything that involves paying money or getting something
documentary from a public body in London - especially those that involve a trip to the Town Hall has the potential to be managed through the postal network. For instance at the last budget round in Lewisham the Mayor rejected a proposal to close the cashiers' office at Lewisham Town Hall - presumably to ensure that local
people had the chance to pay council tax and the like in cash at the town hall - why not instead use that money to ensure that whenever anyone wants to pay money to Lewisham they can do it far more conveniently at a local
post office that also provides other services.

So I don't really see it as being as simple as a way of providing a dingy place to buy stamps - however a dingy place where I pick up my replacement mobile when I get home from work rather than having to stay in would be useful!

The point that has not been made yet is that the post office on a parade of shops encourages greater footfall and makes it more likely that the other types of shops that we prefer (retail shops) can thrive (retail shops) at the expense of those that many prefer less (takeaways) - unless of course you're on your way home from the Brockley Central Drinks and you forgot to get some supper before going out.

Thanks

Dean

ade said...

@patrick1971 - i think the population of new cross/ brockley and deptford warrants 3 post offices - the case for closing them has nothing to do with how many people use them but their profitability (which is silly cos they are a public service!!) Closing the one at new cross will just put more pressure on the other two...

Anonymous said...

Not wishing to teach grannies to suck eggs but mobile post offices do exist for some countryside communities.

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

Dean, who is going to pay for them? I agree that they can be useful, but part of joining the EU is to open up postal services to the private sector. The good ole days are gone!

Tressilliana said...

The sub-post office near Mr Lawrence is still open, to my knowledge.

I have no problem whatsoever with post offices/Royal Mail (and other essential services such as public transport) being publicly funded. If it's all privatised the services that won't make any money (eg sending birthday cards to the Outer Hebrides) will go and that isn't good for the cohesion of society. There are plenty of people living on very tiny incomes who still want to get their income in cash and pay their bills in cash. That way they can't run into debt. They need local post offices.

Anonymous said...

You have a government that took decsions and didn't realise or chose to ignore the consequences for the Post Office network. As suggested by Cllr Walton there is much Council business the Mayor could place with the Post Office.

If as suggested more people are using the internet why are the queues at Lewisham & Catford almost out the door?

I use a small sub post office it is the busiest shop on the parade and has been said increases footfall. If those people are now to go somewhere else it will be to the detrement of the entire parade of shops.

Cllr Dean Walton said...

@APPD

You asked who is going to pay for these - Lewisham currently pays something like £200K to keep the cash hall in the Town Hall open - so that's a start. Increased use of the post-office could of itself produce more income for the business. Further, if as many people accept there is a proper social-role for the post office - perhaps it is better to compare it with a library than say a convenience store - there can be good case for seeking to subsidise it from public funds - or some form of levy on postal operators in the UK. Without subsidy the type of services suggested by me & others will not simply go away - it is just that the more vulnerable people who rely on those services will find it that much more difficult to do work their way through them. Where will the disabled person get their freedom pass from? How will the benefit claimant get £20 cash from their basic bank account without having to pay £1.75 at Costcutter or the Esso garage? Was it really the case that we'd set up situations so that 5-10% of whatever is paid out in benefits is intended to end up as charges for withdrawing cash to put on the electricity key card - where the tariff is already higher than the cheapest 'dual fuel' rates? Finally, do we want another vacant shop on the parades that will further undermine the viability of the parade as a whole? Reduce it simply to a matter of cost and you might as well get rid of a whole host of Lewisham's services - street lighting - where does the cash for that come from? Street cleansing - likewise? And don't even start on the multi-million schools or social services - waste of money. Cremating the dead however - that's OK - self financing. So the real answer to your question about 'who pays' is a little more complex - it is better asked in terms of 'what role do we see for a revised post-office network, what are the upsides and downsides, are we happy with this mixed bag'.

Moving on a bit in this debate, it is interesting that you mentioned the EU-led liberalisation of the Post Office. As you'll be aware political direction for the EU comes generally from the European Council - made up of ministers from each member state - that is the 'EU-led' bit. However, the democratically elected European Parliament has a say and I don't normally get onto a party political platform. But a good few years ago, Greens in the European Parliament opposed the liberalisation of the post office services. Which makes is all the more interesting to see that the concerns we had then were genuine. The reports yesterday were that larger businesses have seen the benefits of the liberalisation rather than consumers and smaller businesses. Further, the universal postal service is now at risk. So first the post office network and now the delivery network.

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

I agree with you on alot of those points Dean. I cannot go into alot more detail for fear of being branded a troll, but generally speaking I saw the liberalisation of the postal services to 'get it off the balance sheet' of the UK. i.e. to reduce dependancy on central gov.t funding, to help adhere to the Stability pact etc..

Alot of the services you mentioned above do not generate revenue in theirself, hence my question. There is obviously alot a postal office could do to support a local community which is incredibly importantant in a county like the UK, where distribution of wealth matters (for those who contribute to the UK in the Long term).

Pete said...

They stopped being a public service when the government privatised them.

creepylesbo said...

But the New Cross Road one is the only place you can go to pick up packages. If they close that we'd have to travel to Beckingham any time they decide to deliver something from Amazon in working hours (er, like all the time then)!

creepylesbo said...

It's impossible to post anything - THAT's why they are closing them. I have to use up an hour or more to queue up to post something during a lunch time. I try to go in the morning before work but the one on New Cross Road doesn't open until 9.30am on many mornings, and even if I go there for then and try to make it to work by 10am I can't travel from New Cross Gate to London Bridge in time. Grr! I can't post off postage as I don't have a printer at home and there will be plenty of people who don't have internet access but who would like to sell or buy things online - which STILL NEEDS A POST OFFICE! Plus it bites that you purchase a padded envelope from the PO once, then seal it all up at home and then they usually try and charge you for it AGAIN the next time you go to one to post it.
WHy why why is there no adequate alternative? Why the hell did they ever privatise them?

Tressilliana said...

Don't understand. I pick up packages from the sorting office at the foot of Harefield Road. I wasn't aware that you could pick packages up from post offices. Annoying though it must be if you can't get to the sorting office when it's open without going into work later or waiting till Saturday morning, it's a million times better than trying to get DHL or similar to deliver to your home address. Just don't even attempt it.

Also, what do you mean about them trying to charge you twice for a padded envelope? I've never experienced this. They charge by weight of package, surely? You have to buy the packaging and that's a separate transaction.

Tressilliana said...

Oh duh, just spotted you are talking about posting packages. With you there! The post office in Lewisham or near where I work are both packed out all day long.

I believe the one near Charing Cross is open 24 hours per day, if that's any use.

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