Exclusive: Post Office accused of branch closures by stealth

George Thomson
George Thomson
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COMMUNITIES in Yorkshire have been waiting for as long as five and a half years for their local Post Offices to reopen after supposedly temporary closures.

Some 35 branches across the region have been shut for longer than 12 months with the average closure lasting more than three and a half years, figures show.

Campaigners have branded them permanent closures “by stealth” with some showing no signs of reopening.

Now it is feared the planned privatisation of Royal Mail will lead to “more and more” communities losing local branches, particularly in rural areas where vital subsidies could be lost, they have warned.

The longest closure has been in the village of Coxwold in North Yorkshire. Its branch has been shut since February 2008, leaving residents three miles away from their nearest open branch in Ampleforth.

Branches in Great Habton, Draughton, Danby, Staveley and Cowling in North Yorkshire; Broomhill in West Yorkshire; and Sledmere, East Yorkshire have also been closed for more than five years.

Of the total closures, 15 were in North Yorkshire, with branches in Staithes; Kildale; Saxton; Stockton-on-Forest; Brompton by Sawdon; West Burton, Bright Street, York; Wintringham; and the Melsonby mobile service also all still shut after at least a year.

South Yorkshire was the next hardest hit, with ten branches remaining closed in Aldham; Little Houghton; Shafton; Lindholme; Stallingborough; Todwick; Braithwell; Treeton; Lower Manor; and Conanby.

Seven branches in West Yorkshire are still closed including those in Haworth Brow; Oxenhope; Clayton West; Deighton; Scholes, Leeds; and Queen’s Drive in Ossett.

Only three have been temporarily closed for more than a year in East Yorkshire, including those in Brantingham and Seaton.

A Post Office spokesman said such branches that closed in circumstances beyond its control were classed as temporarily closed because “there remains the possibility that circumstances might change such that the branch can be re-opened”.

“When a branch closes in circumstances beyond our control, it is marked as ‘temporary closed’ on our internal record and it is not counted as an open and trading Post Office in our external network reporting figures,” he said.

“The circumstances will vary but a branch could close for reasons beyond our control if, for example, the subpostmaster retired and did not ‘sell on’ the business.

“In many cases we do get Post Office services restored. In some cases, it is not possible, even after considerable efforts.

“When there is an unplanned closure in circumstances beyond our control, we communicate the situation to our customers and stakeholders and work with the local community representatives to try to restore services.”

George Thomson, general secretary of the National Federation of Subpostmasters, said: “Subpostmasters are finding it increasingly hard to maintain their post office service, as a result of falling pay, loss of services, rising running costs and growing competition.

“The Government has completely failed to deliver on its promise of more government work at post offices, leaving subpostmasters more dependent than ever on income from Royal Mail services.

“We fear that a privatised 
Royal Mail will seek to maximise its profits by renegotiating its 
arrangements with the Post Office.

“This would place post offices in even greater jeopardy, so we are calling on the Government to stop the sale and maintain a substantial stake in Royal Mail to protect our post offices.”

The number of Post Office branches in Yorkshire has fallen by more than a third over the last decade, Government figures published last month show.

There were 990 branches open and trading last December compared with 1,530 in March 2001.

More than 400 of those lost shut their doors under two official closure programmes between 2003 and 2009.

Mario Dunn, director of the Save Our Royal Mail campaign, warned more closures were likely if Royal Mail is sold off as planned by the Government.

“We are worried that if Royal Mail is privatised we will see more and more of this,” he said.

“Rural areas will probably be hit harder than big urban ones because those are the ones that survive on a shoestring and rely on subsidies.

“A new owner will not want to pay those.

“If it is difficult at the moment for those subpostmasters to earn a living and keep the business open; imagine what it is going to be like then.

“Yorkshire has got a lot of rural areas where the Post Office is quite an important feature of rural life and economic life and it is those that are likely to be affected the most.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for Royal Mail and Post Office, said the Government was committed to modernising and safeguarding the future of the post office network.

“Eliminating the heavy losses from the 373 branches of the Crown post office network by March 2015 is a key element of the Post Office’s strategy,” a spokeswoman said.

“The Government supports the Post Office in delivering that strategy, which is why we are investing £1.34bn over the duration of this Parliament to maintain and modernise the network, helping the Post Office to compete in a changing retail market.”