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Franchising of Crown Post Offices will fuel the disintegration of our high streets

3 min read

Labour MP Lisa Nandy writes ahead of her Westminster Hall debate on the franchising of Crown Post Offices and the effect on high streets and local communities.

Later today, MPs will debate the future of Crown Post Offices. The debate takes place in the shadow of an announcement late last year that 74 flagship post offices will be closed or franchised to a retailer. 150 others have closed in the last five years. The network will have been cut by an astounding 60% since 2013.

After a wave of department store closures, this could be the decisive move in the disintegration of our high streets. Those towns that were first in line to lose their branches of Debenhams and Marks and Spencer and have been hardest hit by bank closures in recent years, now stand to lose another vital anchor from the high street. 

The Government has been at pains to say they will help struggling high streets. But as we’ve shown at the Centre for Towns, behind these losses lies a lack of spending power, as towns that have lost good jobs over several decades have seen them replaced with insecure minimum wage work. That failed approach has cost towns dear, but is precisely what the Post Office has decided to replicate. Counter staff who typically earn £21,000 a year now face the prospect of transfer to WH Smith, who employ part-time workers on the minimum wage. 

Last year WH Smith was voted worst retailer on the high street by Which? readers. A report by Citizens Advice found franchised postal services led to longer queues and the loss of experienced staff. Previous attempts to place branches in Bargain Booze of all places failed when Bargain Booze collapsed. Is this really the future the government envisages for our public services? 

For many of those 800 experienced counter staff who face transfer or redundancy this will be the final straw. The decline of traditional services like letters and falling government revenues has put the Post Office onto what the Communication Workers Union calls “a path of managed decline”. A successful business would be trying to keep its skilled, experienced staff and expand into new areas. In France, La Banque Postale, set up a decade ago, posted a profit of 1bn Euros in 2016.  Where is the similar vision for our post offices network? 

It need not be like this. Last year the Post Office announced profits of £35m and awarded its Chief Executive a 7% pay rise. This latest wave of closures reveal a story of greed, exploitation and a carelessness with the social fabric of our communities. The Crown Post Office in my Wigan constituency has stood on its town centre site for 134 years. It has survived two world wars and a global financial crash. Why can’t it survive three years of Tory Government?

Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan

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