Government under pressure from all sides for its lack of vision for the Post Office


Members of Parliament from across all parties put Post Office Minister Kelly Tolhurst under pressure earlier this week, when she gave evidence to the Business, Enterprise & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the future sustainability of the network.

Committee Member Peter Kyle (Labour MP for Hove) was sharply critical of the Crown Office consultations process, which, he said, many had complained was a “sham”.

And in response to his question about this process, Ms Tolhurst seemed to confirm many people’s suspicions when she said: “The consultation process is not about whether those post offices go into a franchise.” (See Video at 0.45)

Eddisbury MP Antoinette Sandbach (Conservative) asked her if the Government planned to create a Post Bank, which has been something that the CWU has long campaigned for. (See Video at 1.19)

In reply to her, Ms Tolhurst said that there are currently no plans for this, but that this situation could change in the future.

Reacting to the Session, CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey said that the Minister’s disappointing responses provided “yet another reason why we urgently need a Labour Government.

“On the consultations, what she said there will just further anger people in communities all over the nation that their voices are being ignored.”

And Ms Tolhurst’s defence of the franchising strategy was, he said: “Complacent and bordering on negligent, particularly as WH Smith, where many Crowns are moving in to, have an appalling customer service reputation.

“To add insult to injury, WH Smith are still refusing to accept their responsibilities in regard to recognition of the CWU in respect of collective bargaining matters including pay. Whilst the Government Minister may find this position acceptable, this is something this union is not prepared to tolerate.”

On the Post Bank issue, the Minister’s reluctance to commit was “very disappointing,” Andy continued, “although the fact that the subject was broached by a Conservative Member of the Committee was a positive and indicates that the thorough research and meticulous study that has gone into the Post Bank proposal is gaining an increasingly broad audience.

“Post Bank would meet a clear social and economic need across all parts of the UK, while also going a long way to protecting and sustaining the network, which the Government continually insists it wants to maintain.”

“Thankfully, the Labour Party is fully committed to the Post Bank model and this is yet another reason why we need a general election and a Labour Government as soon as possible.”

The Committee also posed questions on sub-postmasters’ remuneration and ongoing subsidy to maintain rural post offices.

“The Minister’s responses on some of these other issues were a little more encouraging,” Andy continued, citing the imperative case for renewal of the rural post office subsidy and the stated commitment to improving sub-postmasters’ remuneration – “although we do need to see urgent and meaningful action here, and not just warm words of sympathy.

“We’ve got to end the franchising – in real terms a back door privatisation – embrace the Post Bank concept, and make post offices the real community hubs that they can be – serving communities urban, rural and suburban alike, helping people and small businesses.

“It’s great to see, once again, that our common-sense plans are winning growing support across the political divide – but we need firm action and we need it now.”

“Hopefully the report from the Select Committee, when published, will champion the vital role of the Post Office in society, leaving the Government in no doubt that it needs to take a more hands-on and progressive approach to the future well-being of this great and publicly loved institution.”