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Labour and the Tories must carry the can for Post Office failings

February 17, 2009

column-picture2I have been very pleased to note the obvious affection in which the Winchelsea Post Office is held by many of its customers.

As I recall, a few weeks ago, a concerned Winchelsea resident even wrote to the Rye Observer encouraging all those who were fed up with the shenanigans at the Rye Post Office to come and use the one in their village.

It is embarrassing that it has come to this.

First, Rye residents had to swallow the disappearance of the Tilling Green Post Office, and for months afterwards have been having random unannounced closures and a level of service which has been, quite frankly, unacceptable.

I, like many others, have made a formal complaint to Post Offices Ltd. I have also asked for a formal apology to the residents of Rye.

Local people deserve a fuller and more contrite statement than the one made in the last few days, which, to say the least, was a bit limp.

Derick Holman, from the Rye Chamber of Commerce was right to say that last week’s antics amounted to a ‘fiasco’.

With the move of the Post Office to Jempsons/Budgens set for 23 February, I just hope that this will be a watershed in the quality and reliability of the Post Office service for Rye.

But why have things gone so badly wrong?

We should look at the history.

To be clear, the Royal Mail Group consists of two distinct operations: Post Office Ltd, which is responsible for all the post offices, and Royal Mail which is responsible for the collection, sorting and delivery of mail.

The answer to the problems of Rye, and other towns, lies in the fact that the Post Office network has been badly under-funded by a succession of governments. Both the last Conservative and the present Labour administration have overseen a huge programme of Post Office closures as a direct result.

This is why Tuesday’s outburst from the Chair of Rye Labour Party, Chris Mears, beggars belief. Blaming other people for the Government’s failure is highly unattractive.

The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for the maintenance of the Post Office network. Our policy calls for it to be ring-fenced as a publicly owned enterprise, which should benefit from investment to enable it to develop into a ‘Postbank’, as well as a point of contact for people requiring advice with regard to benefits, pensions and tax credits.

The Royal Mail, as the Hooper Report points out, is having serious difficulties in adapting to the new technologies of communications. The most significant competitor to the Royal Mail is now email, text and other forms of electronic communication. It is vital that Royal Mail begins to use modern techniques in order to be able to continue to uphold the universal service obligation.

Liberal Democrat policy therefore is to sell 49% of the Royal Mail, ensuring overall control is retained by the Government and the staff, and to use some of the proceeds to invest in a modernised Post Office network.

Further, we would put at least one-quarter of the Royal Mail into an employee-owned Trust, so Royal Mail workers become employee owners along the lines of the John Lewis model.

This is the kind of thinking that is going to be necessary in order to enable the Post Office to combine its historic community role – particularly for the benefit of our most vulnerable citizens – with an effective business model for the future.

Remember – you heard it here first.

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