The London Assembly this week passed a motion condemning the proposal to close five Crown post offices in the capital, and urged the Mayor to fight on behalf of Londoners to keep them open. The Crown Post Office network is trying to manage its finances after a cut from Government of 20 per cent, which will see up to 800 jobs go.
Up to 76 Crown Post Offices are set to close or be franchised. Of the six post offices identified for closure, London will lose five including Lupus Street, Sutton High Street, Kennington Park Road, Stockwell and Broadgate.
Post offices provide essential services to the public that are not available anywhere else. At a recent public meeting I attended in Pimlico about the proposed closure of Lupus Street Crown Post Office, residents were concerned about the lack of other local banking services by the Crown Post Office. The loss of the post office in this community will create a void, especially for older residents who collect their pensions from Lupus Street.
But it's not just customers who will suffer. The Crown Post Office's greatest asset is its 4000 staff, who are highly-skilled and the face of local post offices. They offer specialist services to the financial services industry, the cornerstone of London's economy. Many people might not be aware, but the Crown Post Offices process 40% of financial services mail. Cutting these services offered by dedicated Crown Post Office staff actively undermines small and medium sized businesses.
For those post offices likely to be franchised, there are concerns about how ineffective this policy has been in the past. In 2007, the Post Office lost 85 Crowns in a previous closure programme; 76 of which went to WHSmith. According to the retail watchdog Consumer Focus, WHSmith were the worst performer on queue times and scored badly on quality of service and accessibility. In contrast, Crowns proved to be the most accessible and scored highly on quality of service.
Today we urged the Mayor to be on the side of Londoners. He should be using his influence and get the government to investigate the impact of these plans on staff, customers and the business community. In addition it is essential for the Mayor to seek assurances from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State that staff working in post offices which will be franchised will be paid at least the London Living Wage. The closure of post offices in London will be bad for customers, businesses and staff and Boris needs to make it clear that Londoners do not want cuts that will jeopardise the service they receive.
I recognise the need for Crown Post Offices to reform, yet they are an essential part of the fabric of our communities and deserve to be protected. It is critical reform is not at the expense of the service provided to Londoners. This is a misguided cost-cutting exercise and these changes beg the question - what will the Post Office network look like in the future? How far will these cuts go? And is this the end of dedicated community Post Offices? We need to ensure that it's not.