The vanishing Post Office?

If you go anywhere in the UK you’ll find local people complaining that their nearest Post Office has closed and they now have to go a nearby town to post parcels etc. The rural Post Office network has been decimated. 2,500 sub-Post Offices closed between 2008 and 2009. Its urban counterpart has followed suit in a massive “beechinglike” cost cutting exercise.

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This week I arrived at the post office near to my work to discover a sign on the door explaining that as part of the Broadgate redevelopment the Broadgate Post Office would close. I don’t think anyone can have much to say about that, frankly if the site of the post office is being redeveloped it makes sense for the Post Office to close. Temporarily.

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What I do have a problem with is the proposal that the closure be permanent. The Broadgate Post Office is always busy. It’s rammed with people who, like me, fill in forms, buy stamps, get passport photos taken, drop off a variety of parcels and get their foreign exchange etc. I often queue for 15-30 minutes for service. However, Post Office Limited feels that this particular post office isn’t required (translation: the rent is a bit high) and that they would rather “upgrade” the Houndsditch post office instead. The clue is in the post code for the Houndsditch post office, E1… No doubt the rent is far more reasonable. Undoubtedly the case for closure was made without considering the online revenue from people who buy postage and then drop it off at the Post Office on the basis those people would buy postage anyway, regardless of where they need to drop it off. This is stupidity of the highest order. It’s 15 minutes to walk to the Houndsditch post office from where I work. I can get to a (often more reasonably priced) collect+ drop off point in the same time – which do you think I will use?

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Royal Mail, previously the parent of the Post Office has just decided to create 1,000 new jobs in its expanding parcels business. I have news for you guys, to keep shipping parcels people need to be able to drop them off somewhere reliable and trustworthy. Somewhere a bit like a Post Office. Otherwise, people simply won’t bother.

I would have no problem with closing the Broadgate post office if it was always empty. Similarly, if they stated the closure was temporary and a nearby site would be found it would be fine. But closing a very busy Post Office is just crass and dumb. I visit the Post Office near where I live maybe 4-5 times a year as opposed to 30-40 times a year for the Broadgate Post Office. I’m afraid, when a lunch hour is 45 minutes at best and 10-15 minutes at worst, a 15 minute walk just doesn’t cut it…

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However, there is slim hope. A consultation on the proposal to close the Broadgate Post Office runs until 9 April 2013. If, like me you happen to use the Broadgate post office and think this is the dumbest idea you’ve heard in a while, please feel free to let the Post Office Communication and Consultation Team know via:

Post – FREEPOST PO Consultation
Email – consultation@postoffice.co.uk
Customer Helpline 08457 22 33 44
Textphone 08457 22 33 55

If you lack inspiration as to what to write to the consultation, here is a suggested email:

Dear sirs,

I understand there is a proposal to close the Crown Post Office located at Broadgate Circus in the City of London permanently. I can understand it may need to be closed temporarily while the site is redeveloped but the presence of the Post Office at Broadgate is an important amenity. It is often very busy indeed.

An alternative 14 minutes walk away is not an acceptable alternative. For these reasons I would be opposed to the permanent closure of the Crown Post Office located at Broadgate Circus.

Best regards etc

5 thoughts

  1. May I offer my sympathies for the predicament you and other customers of Broadgate Circus PO are facing, however you and hundreds of thousands of Post Office customers from all over the UK are facing a transformation of the PO network that will see a total change to the customer facing aspect of the PO Counter service, where branches will be closed and moved to other locations, in the smaller range of PO’s this will involve closing the traditional PO and opening it up on the counter of a nearby retail establishment such as a 8 till late C-store, but there will be no dedicated PO counter, customers are expected to be served at the same check out as shoppers. I will leave you to imagine what chaos will ensue, the larger branches will be required to operate under new conditions which are under funded and will not be sustainable, the franchise holders will struggle to make living and the service will be lost eventually.

    However if I may make a criticism of yourself and other PO users who purchase their postage direct from Royal Mail. In your blog you said the following

    “Undoubtedly the case for closure was made without considering the online revenue from people who buy postage and then drop it off at the Post Office on the basis those people would buy postage anyway, regardless of where they need to drop it off. This is stupidity of the highest order.”

    Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd are totally separate companies, when you purchase postage online the revenue remains within Royal Mail, none of this revenue finds its way to the operator of the High St Post Office Branches such as Broadgate, so your pre-paid mail that you drop off at the PO provides no benefit to that Branch, due to internal politics with which I will not bore you.

    Add this type of activity to the fact that the Government are quietly downscaling the public subsidy that it provides to keep such a large Network going, without so much as a by your leave from the public, lies behind the decision to close branches such as Broadgate and bring about the radical changes that lie in wait for thousands of unsuspecting PO Customers

    • Mark, thank you for your comment. I absolutely agree that it is far from ideal to have customers of the post office served from the same tills as retail customers. There is clearly a skill in understanding and being able to direct customers’ sometimes obtuse queries that doesn’t fit at all with serving someone stationary or groceries from the same till. Until relatively recently, I didn’t really appreciate that point, how many people rely upon post offices to advise them on what they need, until I began to sell on eBay and spent 1 or 2 lunchtimes a week in the local post office queue.

      As to your point about revenue and the politics of it, I have no doubt you are correct but that it goes far deeper than respecting the petty rules that accountants and lawyers create around these matters. Customers do want to pay online, not because they want the branches to become unviable as going concerns but because it saves them time to do so (I know that’s why I do it). I’m of the view that if a customer wants to shop in a particular way that’s (broadly – I have an issue with retail sheds) to be welcomed – they aren’t doing it to be petty or spiteful, but because it makes their lives easier. Equally, I have no doubt that people have no conception that a deal could possibly have been struck which doesn’t share the revenue of online drop offs with post office branches. It seems crackers to me that a proportion of online revenue is not shared with the branches concerned. That sounds like an food company selling meat from a supermarket and keeping all the proceeds… I suspect that deal wouldn’t go down well with Tesco or Sainsbury’s.

      Without addressing that point I cannot understand how it can possibly be the case that ANY post office can hope to remain viable, despite it becoming clear over the last 3-4 years that if anything they are getting busier (largely down to things like eBay and online purchase returns). I have worked at a large organisation for many years and I know that if one part of the business is feeding off another with no payback that is a party that will end and end badly at some point.

      I think you are right that we are sleep walking into a situation whereby the quality of service for regular post office customers is far downgraded and people do need to be vocal about this.

      It’s all to easy for politicians to write off complaints from the CWU as “just another complaint from a union” (as if that were somehow tainted) so I think it is imperative that post office customers let local politicians know about their feelings in this regard, and particularly the aspect of this that (in my view) is a “cooking” of the books to justify one particular outcome.

      In any event, thank you again for your comment.

  2. Thank you for the reminder on this issue I have been meaning to write an email stating my view on this since I heard this news a few weeks back. I can’t claim to understand the politics or econmics behind this but it beggars belief that they can’t make money in this (or a similar) location close by…..if only I had £1 for every hour I have queued in that place over the last 10 years I would pay the rent myself for them!

  3. Unfortunately I only found out about this after the barely publicised “consultation” period. It is breathtakingly dumb and will lose the PO a fortune – the area is crammed with high-use, time-poor customers. Do you think there’s any point in contacting the local MP?

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