Andrew Jones MP calls Post Office consultation over Harrogate branch downgrade a 'sham'

Andrew Jones MP calls Post Office consultation over Harrogate branch downgrade a 'sham'
Andrew Jones MP calls Post Office consultation over Harrogate branch downgrade a 'sham'
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Harrogate's MP has slammed the Post Office organisation, after it was revealed that plans to relocate the town's main branch are seemingly going ahead, without publicising a final decision.

The Post Office is in the process of moving a number of its branches into WHSmith stores across the country, and Harrogate's town centre branch is one of those earmarked for relocation.

Screenshots from the planning application by WHSmith show that they are already planning to erect signs for the Post Office move.

Screenshots from the planning application by WHSmith show that they are already planning to erect signs for the Post Office move.

But despite the organisation claiming no final decision has yet been made on whether Harrogate's branch on Cambridge Road will close and move to the Victoria Shopping Centre - WHSmith is already drawing up plans and recruiting for a Counter Clerk and Post Office Operations Manager in Harrogate.
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP, Andrew Jones, has led his own campaign against the plans, calling it a downgrade of the town's crown branch.

Today, he told the 'Advertiser that he had been 'concerned from the outset' that the plans were a forgone conclusion.

He said: “I was concerned from the outset that the consultation by the Post Office was a sham.

"This is because at a briefing post office officials indicated very strongly that the decision to move to a WHSmith franchise was not negotiable. I raised these concerns in Parliament at the time. I was assured by Post Office officials that this was not the case and received an apology for the impression that had been given.

“Now we see that the Post Office are advertising for staff in the new WHSmith franchise while at the same time claiming that they are still considering over 1,000 consultation responses from local people that I gave to them.

"This makes it difficult to believe the Post Office had any other plan than to downgrade our Crown Post Office."

The MP added that he had written to Post Office boss, Paula Vennells, calling on her to take the people of Harrogate seriously.

He said: “I have written to the Chief Executive of Post Office Limited, Paula Vennells, asking for an explanation for these actions.

"Since there is little she can say to reassure me that this consultation is genuine following this latest revelation I am asking her to halt the current process until she can prove the public have been taken seriously and that their concerns have been addressed. Only in this way will the public have faith that the consultation is genuine.”

As well as advertising new jobs based in its Harrogate store, WHSmith has even submitted a planning application to Harrogate Borough Council to erect Post Office signs in its windows.

But despite the concerning plans, the Post Office has maintained that a final decision has still not been made.

A Post Office Spokesperson said: “This is normal practice, and it is not the case that this pre-empts 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.”

In another statement a spokesperson for WHSmith said: "As the final decision about relocating the Post Office in Harrogate has yet to made, we cannot comment at this stage."

But the company clarified that while it is currently advertising for the positions, applicants would not be offered a contract until a final decision on the proposed move had been made.