Dealing with Labour’s mess, Part 93: Lib Dems secure future of post offices

Remember the last Labour government’s record on post offices? Their numbers fell by more than 7,100, or 38%. But not any more, as a result of Lib Dem action within the Coalition — as Lib Dem Voice first reported here almost 18 months ago.

This is how the Press Association reports it:

The Government has secured the future of the Post Office under a 10-year deal giving certainty to postmasters, ministers have announced. The long-term arrangements between the Post Office and the Royal Mail will be reached before the two are separated under the Government’s controversial privatisation plans. Sub-postmasters welcomed the move but the Communication Workers Union said it was the end of an era for a fully publicly-owned postal service.

Postal Affairs Minister Edward Davey said: “Concerns people had about the Post Office becoming independent from Royal Mail were always misplaced as that separation is part of our cure, but the 10-year deal struck between Royal Mail and the Post Office will give sub-postmasters and others greater confidence. Coupled with winning new contracts and the successful pilots of new operating models, the signs are extremely encouraging for the future of the Post Office.”

The announcement is further evidence of Lib Dem Ed Davey’s success in his ministerial role — as noted by Mark Pack here — and why he’s being tipped for the cabinet.

Fellow Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt, Co-Chair of the party’s Parliamentary Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, joined Ed in welcoming the news:

“This is very welcome news for both the Post Office and Royal Mail and demonstrates our commitment to ensure a sustainable future for both. Post Offices are a vital part of our communities and are the lynchpin of our towns and villages. More than 20m people visit a Post Office every week to send letters to loved ones, to manage their finances or to renew passports for holidays and hundreds of thousands of pensioners rely on them every day for their pensions.

“Labour left Royal Mail in a terrible mess and it is Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government who have stopped closures and put Royal Mail and the Post Office on a secure footing. Our plans mean that we will never see the kind of planned closures that devastated local communities under the previous Government.

“Labour said our plans would lead to more closures as the Royal Mail moved away from using the Post Office network. Today’s announcement proves that they were, once again, wrong.”

Lorely is right to note Labour’s knee-jerk oppositionism (despite their own dire record in government). Here, for example, is what shadow chancellor Ed Balls had to say back when he was contesting his party’s leadership:

“I will fight against the Con-Dem plans, which endanger this vital and popular public service.”

Contrast Ed’s predictable doom with the words today of National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) general secretary George Thomson:

“Sub-postmasters will welcome the security which this news brings, which will help provide them with the confidence necessary to invest in their businesses for the future.”

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Whilst I can understand you talking up this supposed safeguarding of the Post Office, I am afraid that a very cynical trick is being foisted on us, under the guise of modernisation, a cynical trick that even Labour would not have been attempted

    My understanding is that the guaranteed payment to sub postmasters will be eradicated, meaning that postmasters incomes will be significantly reduced, potentially making their business unviable regardless of how busy the office is.

    There seems little chance of transactional income being raised to a reasonable level – many many post office transactions generate less than a single penny, regardless of how long they take to deal with.

    Once a sub postmaster has been starved into submission, their formerly succesful business is downgraded to a “Post Office Local” and moved to the nearest shop/petrol station that will take it, but unable to offer the full range of transactions or even carry enough cash to pay more than a few pensions.

    The network may remain in number terms, but many of the outlets that remain will be little more than a stamp vending machine – BUT we’ll have kept the promise not to cut offices.

    And as for these NEW services; there is little in the pipeline that will benefit sub postoffices.

    The Post Office has a contract with postmasters that is enormously restrictive, tantamount to slavery, where all the responsibility rests with the sub postmaster while all the rights stay with the PO.

    And the real irony is that all the independent, privatised couriers leech on the back of Post Offices by dropping their undelivered parcels at Post Offices for collection by customers, and as a service to their customers, POs allow this, so the courier company meets its delivery target by getting a signature and avoids the enormous costs involved in re-deliveries. If Davey should be doing anything, it should be formalising that arrangement with couriers to generate income for postmasters.

    My wife took on a Post Office 10 years ago and her guaranteed salary then was £620. Now its £800 for a 48 hour working week – less than £3.70 an hour. Thanks to a hell of a lot of hard work, she managed to grow the transactional income by over 150%, but with the loss of various government related contracts all, bizarrely, designed to cut costs (but which justs leaves a bigger hole that needs to be subsidised) that achievement is being consrantly undermined, and due to the dog in a manger attitude of the PO contract she is BARRED from even offering successor services.

    Labour may have been subjecting the PO to death by a thousand cuts, I suspect the Lib Dem version will be death by a million paper cuts. Either way, still death, no cake option!

  • Richard Boyd 25th Jan '12 - 2:38pm

    Redndead’s comments are illuminating as they come from the coalface and not an edited comment generated from a civil servant for his/her Minister. I cannot judge which version is nearer the truth, but recall the heady days of the “Essex Works” PR initiative instigated by Lord Hanningfield, when saving village Post Offices was a vote winner (he thought).
    In the event, and after a few hundred thousand had been spent, I thinlk the total “saved” was 3, in a County having a
    population of over 1.5 million. I remain sceptical of policy winners that are not based on real examples.

    Richard Boyd

  • Stuart Mitchell 25th Jan '12 - 6:11pm

    How can replacing a permanent link with a 10-year link be described as “securing the future” of our post offices?

  • My belief is that the comments from redndead are basically accurate . I looked into purchasing village post offices recently and was shocked at the way that the new propsed contracts seemed to entail a large wage cut . The policy as it stands now was never Lib dem policy . Their conference referred back a similar far right dogmatic approach and replaced privatisation with the majortity of shares being held by a cooperative of workers etc . I remember the 6 year guarantees of supply for power stations that went with the privatisation of coal . As soon as the 6 years were up the mining industry virtually ceased to exist.
    Davey has created a industry wrecking ticking time bomb of which I think Thatcher would have been proud. Sadly i think that mark Pack is right he will fit into this current domgma led right wing cabinet rather too well.

  • David Evans 30th Jan '12 - 2:25pm

    Stephen, have you looked at the detail? If so can you give us some facts on the effect on postmaster’s income? I write this in the knowledge that a local PO has just gone under in my area, even before the new contract.

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