Serious consideration needed for Post Office network transformation

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will today publish a report – ‘Post Office Network Transformation: a progress report’ – outlining its concerns with regards to the Government’s proposals for change to the ownership and administration of the Post Office network.

Commenting on the publication of the report, the Chairman of the BIS Committee, Adrian Bailey MP, said:

“Post offices provide vital services to local communities up and down the country, particularly for those in rural or deprived areas.

“It has long been clear that the Post Office network needs to undergo significant change in order to place it on a long-term sustainable footing and to increase its geographical coverage.

“Any such reform must be more than just a consolidation of the existing network.

“The BIS Committee supports the direction of travel set out by the Government.

“However, a number of serious concerns remain, not least with regards to the inflexibility of the proposals, the lack of a programme for delivering government services for the Post Office and deficiencies in the training programme for post office staff.

“Without urgent and serious consideration, these concerns could undermine the Government’s ambitions to create a Post Office network fit for the 21st century.”

From summer 2012, the Post Office’s Network Transformation will see more than half of traditional sub-post offices convert to new operating models as part of the largest set of planned changes in the Post Office’s history. By 2015, out of the total 11,800 branches, around 4,000 will become Post Office Mains and a further 2,000 will become Post Office Locals.

Consumer Focus said it welcomes the key findings of this report, and that it was a comprehensive review of the challenges Post Office Limited (POL) faces in implementing its ambitious Network Transformation programme, it poses a number of questions which need to be addressed for the programme to succeed.

Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus said:

‘We welcome the Select Committee’s report. The Post Office network needs to undergo substantial reform if it is to thrive in the 21st century as we all want it to.

‘The new PO Local model offers some benefits for consumers, including much longer opening hours than a traditional sub-post office. However, greater accessibility will only fully benefit consumers if the services that they need are available.

‘Getting the correct balance between what consumers need and what might be attractive to potential operators of the new model is not straightforward. The need for change is pressing, but getting the programme right at the beginning is critical to its long term success.

‘More needs to be done on the range of products available, staff training and the advice given to consumers, privacy and availability of cash if we are to maximise the chances of success for the programme.

‘It is vital that POL takes this opportunity to transform the network to ensure its millions of customers receive the good quality and reliable service they expect from their post office.’

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union said: “Today’s report brings welcome scrutiny to the controversial elements of the network transformation programme which threaten the post office network as we know it. Without the Committee’s work, the ‘Locals’ model would have been rolled out largely unchallenged leaving hundreds of postmasters and their communities facing the loss of core post office services.

“As the report highlights, the suitability of the Locals model has not been tested and serious doubts over its sustainability and ability to provide communities with services exist. For that reason we are calling for a moratorium on any formal rollout of the Locals model.

“We share the Committee’s fear that the Locals model will only work for large companies like Tesco through their convenience store network which could suck in limited services and change the ethos of the publicly-owned Post Office forever. If this programme marches ahead, post offices close and then services fail it will either be costly to re-open a post office or will leave communities without these services. There are too many risks and unanswered questions and too little consultation and collaboration with postmasters and communities for this programme to go ahead unaltered.”

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 Serious consideration needed for Post Office network transformation.