Jobs could be at risk after Lancaster’s main post office was named among 39 which could be transferred into private hands.
The government-owned Post Office service told staff today, Tuesday, that it planned to close three branches in Belfast and Antrim in Northern Ireland and Barry in south Wales, and is seeking to transfer 39 outlets to franchise agreements with firms such as WH Smith.
The plans are are the latest step in a re-jig of the crown outlets – of which Lancaster’s Fenton Street office is one – which are run directly by the Post Office.
Unions believe the Post Office wants to reduce the crown network to 220 stores.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said a further 600 jobs could be at risk in the future because up to 50 more of the 314 current crown post offices could face closure over the next two years.
The CWU is pushing for post office services to return to Royal Mail and for the Post Office to be an independent People’s bank and not have its banking services tied to its partnership with Bank of Ireland UK.
CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey said: “This is devastating news for our members. It is death by a thousand cuts. The proposals disregard the wealth of expertise, experience and sense of pride in public duty which is shared by Crown post office employees – and seriously, why would anyone wish to be TUPEd from the Post Office to WH Smith, for example, who are likely to take on many of the franchises?
“Post Office Ltd should never have been separated from Royal Mail. It should be developing services with Royal Mail and Crown post offices should be a one-stop shop for mail, banking, financial and retail services. This trusted public service is being destroyed by lack of imagination and a dash for cash when what it needs is innovation.
“Downgrading the Crown offices is blatant privatisation and the Post Office is getting away with not going to Parliament for discussion on this by MPs. The Post Office is publically owned, so presumably the government has approved this.
“The closure of Crown post offices will have negative economic and social effects on high streets – even if moved just 500 yards into the back of a newsagent – with the businesses left behind suffering and the area going into decline. The only thing driving this move is cuts to make profit.”
CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger (postal), said: “Tragically, this is yet another horrendous example of broken promises, irresponsible government and chronic mismanagement by the Post Office.
“The Post Office should never have been split from Royal Mail – natural synergies and public services have been sacrificed for greed and profit.
“The people of this country need to be made aware of these plans and the fact that the Government and the Post Office have no future ambition for the Post Office network.
“The whole of the CWU stands united behind our Crown Post Office members, in defence of jobs and the future of the network – and to bring all of the People’s Post back together.”
Brian Scott, who represents Post Office workers at the Unite trade union, said: “This announcement by the Post Office is a slap in the face for Unite members, who have worked extremely hard over the past few years to eradicate losses.”
The Post Office said losses in the network of crown post office branches had been reduced from £46m a year in 2011/12 and that part of its network was now breaking even.
But limited opportunities for growth and high property costs in some locations meant some branches would not be able to make money, it added.
Roger Gale, the general manager of the crown post office network, said: “In some locations, directly run crown post office branches work well, but in others there are alternatives, such as franchising, which can work better for the business and its customers, not just in terms of access to post office services but also in relation to long-term viability.”
Postal workers were involved in a series of strikes in protest against the franchising of crown post offices in 2013.
More than 70 have already been put into private hands, including dozens now run by WH Smith. The high street retailer operates 109 Post Office outlets in its stores, the majority of which are former crown outlets.
Hundreds of long-term staff were made redundant when WH Smith took on an initial batch of post offices in 2006.