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The Post Office crisis in Cornwall and why it’s so bleak

26 Oct 2018, 12:48

https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornw ... is-2142962

There have been huge changes to Post Office services across Cornwall

The network of Post Offices across Cornwall is in jeopardy with budget cuts leading to a crisis in rural communities.

That is the view of political opponents of the Government who say more funding is urgently needed for these invaluable rural services.


Post Office Ltd has admitted there have been changes in recent years but said, overall, the number of post offices has remained roughly the same.

In many major towns, such as Penzance and Truro for instance, Post Office buildings have been sold off and counters moved into shops.

But it is in rural communities where villages post offices, which are run by local sub post masters, that has seen the greatest change. Some have closed while others have reopened or moved to mobile services.

The issue becomes political
The problems around services in rural communities is best summed up in the current spat running in west Cornwall.

Andrew George, the former Liberal Democrat MP for the St Ives constituency, which covers much of west Cornwall, has led the criticism against the threat of closures.

He has levelled much of his anger at the Conservatives, not least against the current MP Derek Thomas, who ousted him in 2015.

In turn Mr Thomas has launched a campaign to lobby his own Government to save post office services.

What does Mr George say?
Mr George said: “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.

"If the Government continues as it has done since 2015, we’ll lose many more much valued local post offices.

"I fear locals who are concerned about post office services have been misled by local Tory MPs 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 has slashed funding for village post offices. I fear no one will want to run a sub post office if they discover they’re expected to effectively run the business as volunteers.”

What does Mr Thomas say?
Derek Thomas MP is a member of a new parliamentary group set up to support post offices around the country and has launched a campaign in west Cornwall.

The 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.

He said: “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.

“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.

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

Ouch – back to Mr George
Mr George countered: “It's no coincidence that since we (Liberal Democrats) left office the following offices have either closed or have had question marks or concerns: Newlyn, St Keverne, Long Rock, Gulval, Leedstown, Carbis Bay, Mullion, The Lizard, Porthleven, any many more. Others are struggling.

“The Tories have cut support. No Post Offices closed in west Cornwall after the effort of the Liberal Democrats to hold off Tory desires to treat them in the same way as they were treating schools and the NHS at the time.

“Seeing Tories rushing to be photographed by Post Offices which have closed or are threatened is like seeing an arsonist return to the scene to feign concern at the devastation before them."


One Post Office closes...


...while another reopens...

Sub-postmaster Len Trott and his wife Lynda Trott outside their post office in Lizard village
...and one hangs in the balance

What about an independent point of view?
Citizens Advice has said Government funding for post offices is vital to maintain rural services.

People in rural areas are more likely than their urban counterparts to depend on their local post office for key services, says a report by the charity.

These include banking, collecting state benefits, pensions and purchasing household goods – as well as postal services.

Citizens Advice has called on the Government to commit to continued funding of these community institutions.

It said a poll of more than 800 rural residents found around a quarter of people said they rely on their local post office for learning about local events and services.

The survey also found 1 in 5 people said they would lose contact with neighbours or friends if it wasn't for their local post office.

This was particularly important for people over 65 years old, people with a disability, carers and those who are digitally excluded.

Small businesses also rely on post offices more in rural areas, the charity added. Some 7 out of 10 small rural businesses anticipate they would have higher costs without their post office.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "With pubs and banks closing up shop in many rural areas, post offices remain crucial community institutions.

"This is especially true for vulnerable groups like older people, people with a disability, carers and those who do not have access or the skills to use the internet.

"That is why we're calling on the government to ensure vulnerable groups are protected by confirming funding for the postal network, including crucial rural post offices."

The Citizens Advice report on Rural Post Office Use is available here.https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about ... ffice-use/

Save Porthleven Post Office appeal
Porthleven is an extreme example where a public appeal has been launched to save its post office.

Sharon and Paul Edwards bought Porthleven Post Office, on Fore Street, in 2008. Ten years later, they announced to the community that the business had run out of money and they had to sell it.

According to residents, the couple had tried everything, including selling their car, gym equipment and putting their pension and life savings in to keep the business afloat.

To help the Edwards save the much-needed service, people have created the Porthleven Community Support Group, which now aims to raise £30,000 for the Post Office.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Over the next few years the business grew successfully until the postmaster’s wage, funded by Post Offices Ltd, was replaced by an unreasonable commission payment which effectively sent the Post Office business into a downward spiral.”

So far, approximately £3,000 out of the £30,000 target has been raised.

To donate, go to justgiving./crowdfunding/michael-or porthlevenpostoffice.com/donations.htm, or leave a donation in any of the tins placed around Porthleven.

What does Post Office Ltd say?
Tom Moran, the network development director at the Post Office, said: “We want to be really clear that we’re not closing Post Office branches, and our network of 11,500 branches is at its most stable for decades.

“Cornwall is a good example of this – at the end of March 2010, there were 2,230 Post Office branches and as of March 2018, there were 2,222 Post Offices.


“Over the past few years, we have also increased opening hours across the network by more than 200,000 a week with many local branches open late in the evenings and at weekends.

“However, from time to time, branches do close, often due to circumstances beyond our control, such as the retirement or resignation of the postmaster. When this happens, we always look to restore services as quickly as possible, as we know how important Post Offices are to communities.

“Although we have reduced our reliance on taxpayer subsidy, we do receive Government funding to help support around 3,000 branches; these are often in rural or disadvantaged communities and may be the last shop in their area. We give extra support in these cases to make sure we can provide a service to those customers who rely on the Post Office.

“Most postmasters receive income based on how many products and services they sell. Businesses that host post offices also make money from the extra footfall that Post Office gives any retailer. We believe our rates are fair and reflect the competitive commercial environment in which the Post Office operates.

“There is no denying that these are challenging times for all retailers and that is why we are investing in our branches. Through our recent modernisation programme, we have invested in new equipment for all branches, as well as in supporting retailers to operate their businesses more efficiently.”

Mr Thomas’ Save Our Post Offices Campaign
If you wish to add your name to Mr Thomas’s Save Our Post Offices campaign, contact his office at The Wharfside Centre, Penzance, TR18 2DG or email him at derek.thomas.mp@parliament.uk .

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