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"Save Our Post Offices" - Thomas & George war of words

24 Oct 2018, 13:25 ... -of-words/

MP Derek Thomas says he is delighted with the “fantastic” response from West Cornwall residents to the Save Our Post Offices campaign he has initiated.

Mr Thomas, who is a member of a new parliamentary group set up to support post offices around the country, launched the campaign following the threat of permanent or temporary closure of a number of post offices in his constituency – on the Lizard, at Porthleven, Carbis Bay, Leedstown, Heamoor, St Keverne and Newlyn.

But his parliamentary rival Andrew George says since the 2015 General Election scores of local post offices have faced the threat of closure. “This is not merely a coincidence. It has everything to do with a Conservative Government which backtracked on a deal agreed when they were forced by their Liberal Democrat partners to accept reasonable protections for our vital rural post offices.”

Mr George says that post office closures was a good example of the famous ‘brake’ that the Lib Dems put on Conservative ideas when in coalition. “Since the 2015 General Election Liberal Democrats have not been there to ensure the Conservatives honoured the previously agreed financial support for the post office. If the Government continues as it has done since 2015 we’ll lose many more much valued local post offices.” Mr George observed.

Derek Thomas’ ‘Save Our Post Offices’ campaign calls on Post Office Ltd and the Government to commit to making sure sub-postmasters in rural areas have a viable business.

It also calls on the Government to force banks to pay sub-postmasters a fair price for their services and, together with Post Office Ltd, to increase the range of services available in rural branches.

“Since the campaign was launched, we’ve received hundreds of responses to strengthen my argument in Parliament which is fantastic – but I hope that as many people as possible take the time to sign up to the campaign,” said Mr Thomas.

“Post offices are the lifeblood of local communities, especially at a time when many high street banks are closing, but too many postmasters are finding they are unable to make their business viable.

“Resolving these challenges is a priority for me and earlier this year I successfully lobbied for an extra £160 million of funding for village community branches; last week I discussed the situation with the Federation of Sub-Postmasters and early next month I am meeting the Post Office Minister (Kelly Tolhurst MP) to press for more Government support.

“I believe we need a change in legislation so that bespoke packages can be created to ensure post offices are viable in rural communities all year round.”

Mr Thomas also countered the remarks of his predecessor, Andrew George, who has claimed that the current situation has been brought about by the Conservative party.

“Vince Cable was the Business Secretary who oversaw the passage of the Postal Services Act 2011 which enabled the Government to sell shares in Royal Mail to private investors and separated the Post Office business from Royal Mail,” Mr Thomas added.

“Mr George voted in favour of these changes but seems happy to blame other people for the problems he helped to create.”

But Mr George batted back

“I fear locals who are concerned about post office services have been misled by the local Tory MP about what’s actually been happening. After all it’s political decisions by the Conservatives in Westminster which has undermined the viability of our post offices.

The truth is the Government -which your local MP loyally supports – has slashed funding for village post offices. I fear that no one will want to run a sub post office if they discover that they’re expected to effectively run the business as volunteers.

Vince tempered what the Tories wanted. Our acceptance of part-privatisation of Royal Mail was on condition that the rural sub PO network was protected. They’ve cut funding since 2015. It’s not a coincidence that there’s been a massive closure in recent years”

Mr George presented a research document shows that:

· The Post Office network subsidy was £130million in 2015 but has been slashed to about £46m.

· The last estimate of Post master/mistress pay showed a quarter of them took NO pay at all – effectively doing the job as volunteers; the average pay was just £750 a month.

· There’s a requirement that 99% of rural people are within 3 miles of an operational post office branch, but the Government has now manipulated this by interpreting it as an “as the crow flies” measure

“During the Coalition (2010-2015) Liberal Democrats pressed the Conservatives to agree to protect post offices. The then Government agreed to formalise the separation of Royal Mail from the Post Office.

Royal Mail’s massive unfunded pension liability meant there was virtually no option but to sell shares in it. But this was agreed to allow the Conservatives to sell off part of Royal Mail on the basis of a number of conditions, one of which was that the Post Office network would be retained and supported.

Like so much else, we didn’t expect the protections we put in place for post offices would last long if the Conservatives governed alone. We can now see that they dramatically changed the policy as soon as they had the opportunity.

Just like misleading announcements of more money for NHS and record school funding the Conservatives have made much of the announcement earlier this year of £370 million for the post office.

But that figure is actually a CUT in the funding level previously agreed and most of it goes to the Post Office centrally anyway. Perhaps best to read pages 9 & 10 of the report.

So let’s get real about what needs to be done. We need a change of Government policy or better still a change of Government. It’s not about him claiming to be on their side but doing nothing about it when he gets to Westminster” ... fullreport

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