Post Office accused of 'managing decline' amid Yorkshire branch closures

The Post Office in Ossett, Wakefield, which remained open after a campaign in 2017.
The Post Office in Ossett, Wakefield, which remained open after a campaign in 2017.

Senior executives at Post Office Ltd have been accused of “managing decline” instead of developing a sustainable business strategy as the dwindling number of branches offering “vital” services to communities across the region can be revealed.

Forty-three Post Office branches in Yorkshire and the Humber have closed between March 2013 and 2018 according to annual network reports, the latest statistics available from the company.

But 33 of those were in rural locations, while the company said that similar figures for the number of services moving into other newsagents or stores across the county are not available.

In its response, Post Office Ltd stressed that there are still 950 branches open in Yorkshire and said the company’s “network is at its most stable for decades” - adding that with more than 11,500 branches, 99.7 per cent of people in the UK live within three miles of their nearest branch.

The figures come as The Yorkshire Post today continues its week-long series about issues facing the region’s high streets.

In October last year, it was revealed that there were plans to relocate a number of regional Crown Post Office branches - bigger high street premises - in Beverley, Harrogate, Northallerton, Scarborough, Selby and York to WHSmith stores.

York’s Crown Post Office in Lendal - which was built in 1884 by Henry Tanner and is one of the last such surviving late-Victorian purpose-built facilities still in use - is set to move into the retailer’s branch in Coney Street, where there has been a 15 per cent decrease in footfall over two years, according to the York Central MP Rachael Maskell.

Ms Maskell, who described the move as a “perverse decision”, said: “We have personal stories about people who are dependent on the Post Office.

“[People have said] they won’t be able to make it to the back of WHSmith, for people who might have a disability.

“They are going to be denied the right of a vital public service.”

She added that it “isn’t just about emotional attachment”.

“If they go in inaccessible locations, putting business at more risk...then the whole future model of the Post Office is in decline and it’s not building sustainability.”

The policy of franchising services to such locations feels like “managing decline as opposed to putting investment in,” she said.

This month, Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart - who is Minister for Investment at the Department for International Trade - wrote to the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennells, and asked for a consultation on the proposed move to be widened to include the “fundamental issue” of closing the Crown Post Office at Register Square.

He was said to be “frankly astounded” that aspect of the change was not being consulted on.

And late last year, a number of North Yorkshire MPs, including Ms Maskell spoke of their concerns in the House of Commons about the plans.

Conservative Harrogate and Knaresborough MP, Andrew Jones, told the debate: “Post Offices matter and the services matter. The access point is absolutely critical, and I am not happy with the proposals.”

A number of North Yorkshire MPs will soon release a letter in opposition to the plans, and Ms Maskwell will hand in a petition against the York proposals, which has so far received around 2,500 signatures.

Richmond’s Rishi Sunak MP, meanwhile, last week welcomed an announcement that the relocated branch in Northallerton will be open an extra nine-and-a-half hours a week.

Post Office response

A Post Office spokeswoman said: “We are not closing Post Offices, and we are absolutely committed to maintaining, and growing, our branch network – in both Yorkshire and across the UK.

“With more than 11,500 branches, 99.7 per cent of people in the UK live within three miles of their nearest branch, giving people access to vital services such as everyday banking and bill payments.

“In Yorkshire and Humber, there are currently more than 950 Post Office branches. We recognise there’s a been a small reduction in the number of Post Office services currently available since 2013, and we understand that communities might be concerned about losing their local Post Office.

“What we can say is that overall, the Post Office network is at its most stable for decades. As is inevitable in a network of this size, there can be changes in the number of branches open at any one time and this captured in a snapshot at the end of each financial year. We would like to reassure customers that we are working hard to restore services to communities where a branch has temporarily closed due to resignation or retirement.

“In Yorkshire, we’re continuing to open branches; both to replace a service that may have been lost, and also new branches in communities such as Bramhope, Heworth and Lepton, helping to meet customer demand.

“We have more openings planned up until the end of the financial year too.”

The company added that 98 per cent of Post Office branches are run independently, meaning that sometimes “and due to circumstances often beyond our control”, branches close.

“To be clear, this is absolutely not part of a closure programme, and could be down to a range of reasons - such as the resignation or retirement of a postmaster,” the spokeswoman continued.