Sign up to save St Leonards post office!
Things are looking up in central St Leonards, with lots of new businesses opening their doors in London Road, Kings Road and Norman Road. But the area will take a big step backwards if the Post Office is allowed to implement its plan to close the Crown post office in London Road. If the local community wants to save it, it needs to organise fast. Nick Terdre reports. Photos courtesy of Roberts Photographic.
This was the gist of the message which came across at a meeting called to combat closure which was held in the Isabel Blackman centre on Tuesday last week.
The key to the success of the PO management’s scheme is finding a local business to take it on. If it can’t do that, given its legal requirement to provide PO services, it will have to keep the present Crown, or main, post office open.
So the meeting decided that we need to lobby local shop-owners who might be thinking of taking on PO facilities. Anyone who cooperated with the PO to close down the Crown would find their business boycotted. Stickers will be produced for shop-owners to put in their window proclaiming that they’re part of the anti-closure campaign.
This strategy worked in Whitstable, where the Crown was saved after the local community made it clear it would boycott Budgens if it decided to do a deal with the PO.
Stall in St Leonards market
A Save Our Local PO stall was present in St Leonards market in Kings Road on Saturday (1 April), thanks to the generosity of the market organisers, Sussex Concepts. There were plenty of volunteers to run it, and no less than 644 signatures were collected, Kay Avery tells HOT – it is Kay and Helen Robinson who have coordinated the campaign and who convened Tuesday’s meeting. Many people did not even know that the PO was under threat, Kay says, so it remains important to spread the word.
Altogether some 70 people attended the meeting. They included two members of the Communications Workers Union – national rep Peter Meech and southern area rep Mole Meade, who together provided important information on the PO strategy. PO management was also invited but did not show – this is par for the course, according to the CWU officials – they are not keen to engage with a critical public.
The PO is publicly owned – and not to be confused with Royal Mail, which was privatised by David Cameron’s government. However, public ownership of the PO does not mean that it works in the service of the public. Instead, with the encouragement of the government, the management has a long-term plan to dispose of most if not all Crown offices, the CWU officials explained.
300 Crowns left
From a historical peak of some 1,500 Crowns several decades ago, the number is now down to around 300. Currently the PO is attempting to dispose of three further tranches totalling 67 Crowns, including St Leonards.
Hastings Crown has already fallen – while the building lies empty, a partial PO service is provided under franchise in WH Smith. Only Crowns provide the full range of services.
Several years ago the PO was loss-making to the tune of £64 million. The CWU bent over backwards to help it pull through, agreeing to a three-year pay freeze, cuts in staffing and reductions in working conditions. (And along the way the staff pension pot has been savaged by the government.)
So did these concessions to help the PO back onto its feet benefit the staff? Unfortunately not – instead the PO management promptly moved the goal posts and declared they wanted to make £100 million profit in 10 years’ time. Closing down the Crowns is part of this policy.
The PO service in Hastings was franchised out. But the PO cannot always find a franchise partner, and even WHS now appears to be reluctant. So the PO management has come up with an alternative – the so-called local model. Franchised offices only offer a limited service but the local model pares services right back to basics – a sticker in the window, as Peter Meech put it.
Not at the expanded Coop
It was widely presumed that the Coop, when it expands into the old Lloyds Bank building next door, would take on the PO. But this appears to be mistaken – there is no mention of such a move in its application for planning permission, according to Mole.
Local businesses will certainly suffer if St Leonards Crown closes. For Kay, like Helen a local businesswoman, closure would mean slogging over to Hastings two or three times a week to post off parcels to her customers. Not only would she lose a lot of shop time while doing so, she would probably end up having a coffee and doing shopping in the town centre rather than in St Leonards as she currently does.
Now that the banks have abandoned central St Leonards – and building society Nationwide by no means fills the gap – the PO provides vital banking services, such as dispatching cheques to all the banks. It’s also an essential means of withdrawing money for people without bank accounts – and they are numerous. The lack of alternatives in central St Leonards strengthens our hand.
The Crown also changes money, an important service in a town which hosts hundreds of foreign students. These are precisely the kind of services which will simply disappear if it closes.
Building the campaign
So now is the time to build the campaign. In addition to signing up to help, you can also write a letter to MP Amber Rudd and the PO’s CEO – a template will be drafted next week.
The petition can also be signed in a number of local shops: the Kings Road butchers, St Leonards Grocers and Oak Bakery in London Road, and Shop and St Leonards Modern Goods, Helen’s and Kay’s businesses respectively, both in Norman Road.
The meeting was chaired by Clive Gross and attended by local councillors Trevor Ward and Kim Forward. Hopes were expressed that the council would be able to play a positive role in the campaign.
Keep in touch with the campaign at Save St Leonards Crown Post Office Facebook page.
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