OpinioN8

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Save Our Post Offices? - Crouch End and Muswell Hill to be franchised

There will be a public meeting on March 9th.

There is a report that the Post Office is offering the branches in Crouch End and Muswell Hill (and elsewhere) for franchise. If no one is willing to take on this business then the branches could close.

W H Smith currently operates 109 Post Offices in its branches.

There is much local up roar over this.

Stephen Solene has a Crouch End and Muswell Hill petition in which he states:

These post offices are important to the local residents and business owners, and are heavily relied upon by the communities they serve. If either closes, the nearest post office will be at least a bus journey away. This would be particularly onerous for the elderly and for people with disabilities.

But he provides no facts or figures to support this. 

The local politicians see this as an opportunity to harvest email addresses:

The NAtional Federation of SubPostMasters takes a more realistic view:

Subpostmasters know all too well how challenging current market conditions are. Yesterday’s [Jan 19th 2016] announcement, while very sad and regrettable, is unfortunately inevitable and reflects today’s challenging policy and retail environment.

Personally , it is my view that Post Office counter services are specially designed to take as long as possible - perhaps they actually like queues, or maybe it is in the nature of the transactions, many of which involve third parties, that they must be recorded on multiple systems with umpteen computer and paper audit trails. I'd be very happy using an efficient alternative. My experience of getting a stamp for a large letter this morning is that the self service check outs are  also designed to be consumer proof. Would it not be rather lovely to have someone a bit entrepreunerial selling us our stamps?

Tags: closure, post office

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I don't think that there is much scope for entrepreneurs. The Post Office stipulates quite tightly exactly how a franchisee must provide the service - see https://de5.i-grasp.com/fe/tpl_postoffice14.asp?newms=info3 .

Don't assume it is just a matter of someone taking over the existing Post Office building. I think the PO would be looking for a retailer to take the service into their own premises. No doubt the PO will want to sell off the existing premises.

Since there is little profit to be made from running a post office, the PO makes clear to prospective franchisees that the main benefit to them is the increased footfall they can expect in their retail outlet. It is difficult to see how any existing retail outlet has the spare space to put in a post office counter without considerable investment. Perhaps the only way would be for a retailer to take over an existing empty shop and design a combined retail/PO operation from scratch. A rather challenging proposition.

The PO in East Finchley met the same fate a year or two ago, vacating the long standing premises and popping up as a counter in a nearby shop - run by someone certainly entrepreneurial if nothing else.

The move attracted much local consternation, as covered in The Archer (here and here f'instance) - before featuring in a BBC programme about the issue last summer, "Signed Sealed Delivered: Inside the Post Office". I can't find a link to the video, but there are some reviews here. As I recall it the programme documented various concerns and, after a longish chat with the entrepreneur chap, basically said "and the new PO seems sort of okay really, and not as bad as we thought". Or some such.

More of a worry was the threat also documented, which was: if no one comes forward with an offer to run a PO counter - what then?

The smart move would be for Budgens(/Co-op) to take the post office into their store. They have an unnecessary amount of space allocated to wine/beer, which would make an ideal spot for a PO counter instead. That would help them compete with Waitrose.

There is now a Facebook group SAVE CROUCH END POST OFFICE. It has 26 members. Its founders  assert "It is inconceivable that any ‘franchise partner’ can run a major Crown Post Office better than the Post Office itself. These plans amount to blatant Privatisation." They are calling for a boycott of any company which might take on the franchise. The group appears to be a child of the SAVE MUSWELL HILL POST OFFICE group. 

Good to see the proposed boycott of the Post Office franchisee is being robustly challenged by the CE FB Intelligentsia. Though the challenges may yet fail. Or the boycott.

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