21 Feb 2019, 16:24
https://www.bracknellnews.co.uk/news/17 ... -concerns/
The Post Office has responded to claims its consultation on proposals to move Wokingham’s main postal service is a “con”.
Plans are in place to move the Crown Post Office from Broad Street to WHSmith at Market Place by June, but Labour councillor Andy Croy told The News the consultation period was a “sham” after it emerged WHSmith is already looking to recruit staff for the relocated Post Office.
In response, a Post Office spokesperson said: “This is normal practice, and it is not the case that this preempts any final decisions about moving a branch.
“Once a branch goes into consultation, both Post Office and the potential new operator begin all the detailed planning for the move. This includes getting planning permission (which can take several months) and starting the recruitment process.
“Planning permission sought for any branch would only be actioned by the potential new operator if the proposal went ahead, and any recruitment is conditional upon the proposal being approved.
“The reason this detail planning is done at an early stage, ahead of a final decision, is that we know, should the decision to move the branch be made, it is much better for our staff and the community that the transfer proceeds without any unnecessary delays.”
Labour campaigners had protested outside an information event regarding the proposed move on Monday, February 18.
More than 6,000 people have signed a petition set up by Wokingham Labour opposing the closure of the Broad Street branch, and Cllr Andy Croy told The News of his anger at the Post Office on Monday.
He said: “You call it a consultation but the fact that WHSmith seems confident enough about the outcome of the consultation to start recruiting people in advance just shows what a sham it is.
“It’s not a proper consultation, it’s a con.”
The information event was attended by dozens of people who asked questions about the switch.
The event was so busy that residents were forced to queue outside while spaces at just three tables became available.
One resident called the ‘customer forum’ a “shambles” while an elderly woman, who is a wheelchair user, gave up on attending the forum after struggling to get into the Wokingham Methodist Church, where the event was held.
Before she left, she told The News about her fears regarding the accessibility of the WHSmith store.
And as highlighted by the picture above, the alleyway leading to the event was submerged in darkness by the time it had finished at 7.30pm.
Responding to these concerns, the Post Office spokesperson said: “Customers visiting yesterday’s customer forum on the proposed changes to Wokingham Post Office may have experienced a busy period when the forum first began, and we’re sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused.
“To avoid being left waiting, customers were offered consultation reading materials and reminded that the forum would be ongoing until 7:30 pm and they were welcome to return at a later time should they wish to do so.
“We’re also very sorry if any customers had difficulty entering the venue – there were some building works ongoing outside the church and we apologise if this impacted access in any way.
“It is natural that people will have concerns about the proposed changes to Wokingham Post Office branch. That’s why we are seeking views from you, the local Wokingham community, to better understand areas such as accessibility, both inside and outside the branch, or wider local issues which should be taken into account.
Cllr Croy said after the Post Office responded: “The consultation was overwhelmed as the Post Office was not interested in listening to residents – that is why they gave it next to no publicity, had no signage outside the building and had a bare minimum of staff inside.
“They would have been happier with no-one turning up.
“Wokingham Labour worked very hard to publicise the meeting as we are determined that residents have every opportunity to have their say.”
The consultation on the Post Office move began on January 16 and is due to close on Wednesday, February 27.
And in regard to how the customer forum was received, the Post Office spokesperson continued: “All of the feedback we collect will be carefully considered and will absolutely shape our final decision when it comes to the plans to move the branch.
“It is true that we are not consulting on principle of franchising a branch, as this is a commercial decision – and we believe it is the right one in order to sustain Post Office services in communities for the long term; however, that does not mean that any final decisions have been made.”
If the plans go ahead, the Post Office will relocate to WHSmith by June 2019.
Cllr Croy added: “Incredibly, the Post Office has not mentioned that virtually everyone who turned up at is against the proposal.
“The is not a commercial decision. It is a political decision. It is a political decision by this Tory government to insist that our once proud network of Crown Post Offices is reduced to privatised kiosks in the back of shabby shops.
“This is why John Redwood must get a meeting with the Minister for Postal Services and have her make the decision that Wokingham’s Post Office should stay where it belongs.”