Thursday, May 15, 2008

we will fight

broken-hearted voters
The draughty old fen has been given notice confirming what we had feared: our Post Office has been marked down for possible closure.

We're a big old fen, which could work against us - it appears that post-offices, when they are the only shop in the village, will be looked upon favourably; but if there are other shops then it's more likely that the post office will close, because the community will have remaining amenities. It works on paper, but personally I've never tried to post a letter in the greengrocer's.

We will, of course fight, and the ammunition of choice in this sort of a fight is information. That's where we meet the first hurdle - rural postmasters and postmistresses have been forced to sign "confidentiality agreements" which are nothing less than gagging orders.

These agreements state that should postmasters give information to people who wish to campaign against the threatened closure of these valuable amenities, they stand to lose their compensation payments - the equivalent of redundancy payments - should their post-offices be closed. A Sub Post Office operates like a private business, with the postmaster earning a commission on transactions as opposed to a wage, which gives a sinister edge to the constant peeling of functions from the Post Office. This compensation will be vital to many postmasters for whom their post office represented not only their source of income, but came with a tied house. Others, approaching retirement, will be depending on compensation, should their branch be closed, to augment their pension.

So we have to forage for our information like sounders of boar seeking berries. The British public seems to be on a starvation-diet as regards facts right now, but, thankfully, journalists are by nature hungry creatures. Mike Laycock of The York Press reports that even as the consultation process is ongoing, based on how much profit the Post Office is making, the pensions contract - worth £200 million - is being put up for tender. What is disturbing is that pensioners are contacted by call-centres and informed that their pensions are going to be paid into their bank-accounts, only being given the choice to collect them at the post-office if they push for it. Those who have newly reached pensionable age are given no choice, full stop.

It's been reported that the Post Office is losing £500,000 a day - perhaps this is not unrelated to the services that have been removed from it completely, or also made available over the internet, like Road Tax and TV Licenses. This even though the Government's own consultation document on "The Future of the rural Post Office Network" states "not only [do] many people not have a computer at home, but that broadband access [is] not available in many rural areas."

A 1988 report found that around 190 different types of transactions were (then) carried out over the post-office counter. These have, as we've seen, been greatly eroded, but in 2001, it was announced that the Post Office would no longer hold the monopoly of delivering mail.

There are rumoured to be five firms who want to compete with the Post Office to deliver mail. I am sure the PO will fight for its right to deliver as much mail as possible and, as I've observed, the ammunition of choice in this sort of a fight is information. In fighting to keep our post-offices open, we are supplying the Post Office with precise and valuable information on the demographics and needs in each community without demanding consultants' fees, even though we know our communities more intimately than anybody coming in from outside (like the operatives who will archive individuals' protests during the consultation period should a Post Office be earmarked for closure).
keep fighting
We will fight. Will we win? That depends on what constitutes winning. But our struggles will be recorded and not forgotten, and neither will the personalities who are administrating and finessing what increasingly seems to be a constellation of done deals.

In the meantime, please use your local post office. You can do more there than you may think, because you haven't been made aware of the breadth of services that it still provides. And write: to local newspapers, nationals, your Parish Councillors, District or City Councillors, MP's and MEP's. You know where to post the letters.

use it or lose it

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