Small business are the backbone of our economy. However, with the rate of shops closing increasing each day, the Government’s too little too late approach in its Autumn Budget revealed their lack of commitment to saving our high streets, which form the heart of local economies.
As Ministers continue to peddle the myth that they don’t have any responsibility for the state of our high street, they are too eager to ignore their role in overseeing a managed decline of the Post Office.
The Post Office – a long established and vital part of the British high street is facing a crisis.
In October, the company announced plans to close a further 74 Crown Post Offices – these are the high street branches directly owned by the company – in order to transfer them into small counters within retail stores such as WH Smith.
The current franchising programme, which started in 2013 came shortly after the Post Office was split from the Royal Mail. The latter was sold off below market price by the Tories intent on flogging off key public goods to the detriment of workers and consumers.
Since then, communities across the country have seen their local Post Office branches closing at an alarming rate only for them to downsize and relocate in retail shops, which themselves are vulnerable to closures. Unfortunately, the Post Office have failed to produce a sufficient contingency plan in the event of a host store collapse. This is an abdication of duty to communities they are there to serve.
Post Offices have always been a vital community hub – an anchor in the community for both consumers and small local businesses.
These closures only serve to pile on the pressure on our already overburdened high streets.
For many, transferring to a small counter in a retail store will mean longer queuing times and poorer customer service. Indeed, disability campaigners have long complained about the lack of disabled access to many of these branches, compared to the Crowns.
The recent announcement also risks 700 good quality jobs and already we’ve seen some of the host shops advertising for minimum wage roles to replace them. This programme is bad for the public, and bad for workers, many of whom have served the Post Office for many years and have an expertise and skill which ought to be treasured, not transferred with such ease.
Instead of investing in and growing our Post Office network, the company’s franchising programme has thrown public money at the institution only for it to close and franchise stores off.
This is an appalling use of public funds. And when pressed why they are refusing to consult on the closures, the Post Office was recently forced to admit that no formal consultation on the closures will take place – freezing the public out of a decision vital to their communities.
The issues facing our high street are varied and complex, it is facing a crisis never seen before. The Government seems intent on merely tinkering at the edges instead of offering the long term support it so desperately needs. More needs to be done to protect these vital community assets.
The Labour Party have already committed to a 5 point plan to save our High street – including our pledge to stop Post Office closures. We have commissioned a cross departmental High Streets Working Group which will look at what long term support the High Street needs to thrive.
The Government may continue to peddle the myth that it has no agency over our high streets – the truth is they are willingly letting a proud institution and the public down.