Post office closure scheme slammed

COMPENSATION given to sub-post offices for closing down was last nightslammed as postmasters warned that the rising tide of closures would continue.Royal Mail is currently carrying out a programme of closures, with public consultation, because some post offices are struggling.

COMPENSATION given to sub-post offices for closing down was last nightslammed as postmasters warned that the rising tide of closures would continue.

Royal Mail is currently carrying out a programme of closures, with public consultation, because some post offices are struggling. It says the closure programme which includes compensation packages to postmasters will enable the remaining majority of branches to survive.

But Jon Richardson, who is the postmaster at the Brunswick Road branch in Ipswich and regional secretary of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters said: "The closures are causing problems for customers and I think it is very sad. I came into this organisation 30 years ago when it was a big organisation but it is now gradually shrinking. I do not think the closures have finished and we will see more."

Although he said the consultation was a "difficult exercise" he asserted that sub-postmasters did not have the "final say" even if they volunteered to take the compensation package.

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Waveney MP Bob Blizzard's criticised the Post Office's consultation process on the future of the Kirkley post office in Lowestoft. He said that under a "secret" deal, a huge amount of compensation was being paid to the present postmistress, and that any business wanting to set up the facility would have to pay the existing business a sum similar to the compensation - thought to be between £65,000 and £85,000.

He said: "Not only is the Post Office hell bent on closing the existing post office, they won't even allow a viable alternative to be set up. The Post Office is letting its customers and the people of Kirkley down."

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Mr Blizzard had approached Barry Barnard, who runs Kirkley News in London Road South, to take on the facility, but the finances did not prove to be workable.

According to David Young, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Waveney District Council, a large company will be applying to transfer the post office to their London Road South store and this has been endorsed by Mairi McLeanchief executive of Waveney District Council.

Mr Young, said: "If it's a long shot, at least it's a positive move. We have spent a lot of money regenerating Kirkley and if the post office is closed there will be no banking or post office facilities for companies and individuals. It's the first step on a very long ladder."

A spokeswoman for the Post Office could not comment if new post office applicants would have to match the compensation figure but said the company was very disturbed at Mr Blizzard's comments.

She said: "At the request of the MP we have delayed our final decision date in order for any interested parties to approach the existing sub postmistress to discuss ways of taking over the post office. No final decision has been made for this post office nor will it be made until the consultation process is completed.

"We are surprised that the MP thinks he has uncovered a secret deal as the compensation package of £180 million for the whole country has been in the public domain since last year when it was proposed by the government and approved by Parliament.

"Unfortunately post offices across the country have been losing business for some time and it's essential that we carry out this programme of closures to enable the remaining majority of branches a better prospect for survival."

John Gummer, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: "It is extremely difficult to claim you are having proper consultation if you are offering big amounts of money to the sub-post offices.

"They are offering it because the government has made running these post offices uneconomical because it has changed the rules that govern receiving benefits from the post office."

Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich said: "I think as long as we keep to one post office in a mile then people will not be unduly disadvantaged but unfortunately there are not enough people using the post offices."

He said postmasters were likely to take the compensation money as they could see the future value of their businesses slipping away.

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley says the compensation offers that are tempting sub-postmasters to shut up shop are a "slap in the face for post officers customers."

He said: "The closures are leaving more and more communities without or reduced postal services which is a slap all the face for all Post Office users across Suffolk. To me this nothing but deliberate closure by stealth."

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said: "If financial incentives are going to be offered, it should be to encourage the opening of new facilities, not for closures. Post offices play a huge role in the community of rural towns and villages, yet every couple of months I have to fight to save one from closure.

"This has got to stop it is getting close to the point where elderly people are having to walk a mile to get to vital services. I am horrified by all the closures and the plans to centralise everything, all this does is isolate people in rural communities.

Colchester's MP, Bob Russell, said the consultations were "little more than a farce".

He said: "We had 24 in Colchester before it started, now three have shut and a fourth was saved, but now it is happening again. For many sub-post masters who are finding serious financial difficulty the money being offered is an opportunity that for some is impossible to refuse.

"They are being paid to shut down and this means the consultation is little more than a farce."

Liberal Democrat MP Mr Russell said closures would have a serious impact upon the expanding communities in Colchester.

"A third of the network is to go, so anything less than eight closures in Colchester would be better than the national average. There is no part of Colchester that can be without a post office without it having a serious impact."

Hilary Davis of Colchester Access Group, which looks at problems of geographical restrictions to public buildings, said: "You cannot have a consultation based on such a short time period. It is outrageous, the arguments are not being considered - it is just playing lip service.

She added elderly people were suffering because the interaction they had from a trip to the post office, such as chatting to friends, had been removed new pensions payment system.

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