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Erica Smith (holding giant envelope) being interviewed by BBC South Today.

Erica Smith (holding giant envelope) being interviewed by BBC South Today. © Cliff van Coevorden

When local communities make national noise…

HOT’s Erica Smith gives a personal view about the Save St Leonards Crown Post Office campaign’s meeting last Saturday.

There’s a quote on the Post Office Ltd website about their public relations approach that makes me angry every time I read it:
“ … there’s a risk that without proper handling, local noise can escalate to a larger scale roar which reaches ministers or national stakeholder groups in a way that can knock us off course.”
Post Office Ltd, Public Affairs Team.

Given the strong feeling in St Leonards about Post Office Ltd’s steam-roller approach to selling off both the franchise and the building to Mr Muttiah, a man with a criminal record for selling alcohol to children, the public meeting on Saturday was surprisingly well behaved. Since I was chairing the meeting, that was a bit of a relief!

00MoleSpeaking

CWU Postal Executive Mole Meade addresses a packed meeting © Cliff van Coevorden

We had one hour to cover a lot of ground. Hastings Borough Council Leader, Peter Chowney was there, representing our local councillors – all 32 of whom have voted in support of keeping the Post Office a Crown Post Office. For the first time in a year, our MP, Amber Rudd, agreed to attend one of our public events (there have been five, plus regular stalls in the market). She turned up half way through – fresh from her Saturday morning surgery and just before rushing off to a Conservative Action Day at Falaise. A surprise guest was Laura Tarling – the Post Office’s spin merchant in charge of managing the sell-off of Crown Post Offices across the country. Representatives from the Save Newhaven and Save Abbey Wood Crown Post Office campaigns were also in attendance, as well as Mole Meade, the Communications Workers’ Union Postal Executive.

00ChowneyTalks

Peter Chowney talks about the potential for the Council to buy the freehold of the Post Office building © Cliff van Coevorden

Despite Storm Brian, there was standing room only in the Isabel Blackman Centre. The meeting took a delightfully positive turn when Peter Chowney announced that if the intended sale of the building was put on hold, the Borough Council would run a feasibility study into taking on the building, turning the unused first floor space into flats, and working with Post Office Ltd to keep the Crown Post Office functioning. Mole Meade announced that the CWU have been having positive talks with Margot James, Minister for Small Businesses about setting up a People’s Bank which would be perfect to be based within Post Offices. There is now no bank in St Leonards.

I took a liberty with my role as Chair to remind Amber Rudd that opening a ninth outlet for fags and mags in London Road (this is the intention of PO Ltd’s ‘preferred business partner’) was hardly a sustainable business plan.

00JuliaTalk

Campaign member Julia Price exposes the poor consultation that PO Ltd have undertaken © Cliff van Coevorden

I think that PO Ltd thought that selling off our Crown Post Office would be a quick and easy way to get rid of what they see as a liability. The consultation process has been spectacularly bad. PO Ltd have been hauled over the coals about the lack of serious consultation by their ‘statutory watchdog’, Citizen’s Advice. This clumsy attempt at backdoor privatisation is yet another example of Hastings and St Leonards being given the cheap and nasty treatment – and we deserve better!

Amber Rudd, MP was initially surprised by Peter Chowney’s suggestion that the Council would want to take on the freehold, but by the end of the meeting, Rudd, Chowney and Tarling were talking together.

After the meeting we went to post our concerns to Paula Vennells, Post Office Ltd’s Chief Executive Officer. We were surprised to find that the Post Office had hired a security guard and was only allowing one customer in at a time. It looks like our local noise is having an effect! And we aren’t going to stop hollering until we get a sustainable future for our Post Office.

How you can help save our Crown Post Office

Campaign member K Avery with HBC Leader, Peter Chowney

Campaign member K Avery with HBC Leader, Peter Chowney © Cliff van Coevorden

If you who didn’t write – or post – a postcard after the meeting, I think it’s really worth keeping up the pressure.

Easy option: send emails to: paula.vennells@postoffice.co.uk
C.C. in: laura.tarling@postoffice.co.uk and amber.rudd.mp@parliament.co.uk

Send postcards/letters to:

Paula Vennells, PO Ltd CEO, Post Ofice HQ, Finsbury Dials, Finsbury Street
London  EC2Y 9AQ

Amber Rudd MP, Swallow House, Theaklen Drive, Saint Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0AZ

It would be great if you take a photo of the postcard on your phone first and share it on the Facebook page.

Below is the text for our 10 reasons to object to the Sell-Off plans, which we circulated at the meeting. There’s lots of good points in there if you need inspiration for your emails/postcards/letters.

Reasons to object to PO Ltd’s Sell-Off Plans

  1. Our Crown Post Office is a public asset, but Post Office Ltd want a private sell off at a cheap rate. People of St Leonards gain nothing.
  2. Any new franchisee could sell the building for development and profit after a certain period. We could be left with nothing.
  3. Post Office CEO, Paula Vennells, in defence of her £600,000 salary, said she was attracted to the job because the PO is central to the lives of local communities. Yet she has been the architect of asset stripping communities across Britain with her Post Office closures and sell-offs, backed by the Government.
  4. The ‘public consultation’ occurred after the franchisee had already been selected. It was fundamentally flawed and deliberately poorly publicised. To quote, they said: “we could not afford an advert in the local press”. Their email list of bodies to contact only included one community organisation (AgeConcern), and that email was not delivered due to an inaccurate email address.
  5. The proposal conflicts with Government and local regeneration plans HS1, Coastal Communities Team plan & we don’t need yet another newsagent / tobacconists in the area. Bad business plan!
  6. Mr Muttiah has a criminal conviction for selling alcohol to children. St Leonards is a street alcohol free zone.
  7. This is now the only Crown PO serving over 100,000 people and degrading it conflicts with the terms of the Postal Act 2011, in terms of reasonable accessibility to the whole range of services.
  8. The Post Office have been taken aback at the loud noise we have made this past year – one of the most united, vocal but orderly protests in the country against Post Office plans.
  9. Well over 8000 local people signed our petition against any change and over 500 so far have signed our latest idea: certificates pledging to boycott non-post office goods in any retail development operated by any new Post Office franchisee.
  10. There is nominal local support for the Post Office Ltd plan.

Want more info? Then email: crownpostoffice@gmail.com
Look at the noticeboard outside Love Café in Norman Road.

All photographs © Cliff van Coeverden

Posted 07:27 Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017 In: Campaigns


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