The Post Office today stands accused of cutting down its network “by stealth” as an investigation reveals 17 North East branches have been “temporarily closed” for more than a year.
A Freedom Of Information probe has uncovered huge gaps in the region’s Post Office service, with seven out of a total of 20 branches marked as ‘closed temporarily’, having actually been shut for more than five years.
The Communication Workers’ Union has branded the situation “ridiculous” and claimed Post Office chiefs are letting down communities in the region who rely on their local branch.
Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said:
“To have 17 post office branches closed for over a year is ridiculous. Every day those post offices are closed, local communities are going without essential services.
“Temporarily closing post offices is surely closure by stealth. The Post Office is being opportunistic and this is impacting detrimentally on customers and communities.
“Communities are extremely vocal about their support for their local post office but they’re being fobbed off.
“People want a professional and reliable service and the sooner the Post Office realises this and stops selling them off or surreptitiously closing them down, the better.”
Post Offices in Stamfordham and Matfen, in rural Northumberland, Orchard in Stockton’s Eaglescliffe, Roseberry Square in Redcar, and Aycliffe, Kelloe and Eldon Lane, in County Durham, have been marked as closed temporarily for the last five years.
Those closed for between three and four years include Stainton, in Middlesbrough, Newfield and East Rainton, both in County Durham, Grange Estate, in Stockton and Victoria Street, in South Bank, near Middlesbrough.
Branches in Cleadon Park, South Shields, Burnopfield, in County Durham, and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and Stonehaugh, in Northumberland, were added to the ‘temporary closure’ list over a year ago.
On top of the 17 branches closed for more than a year, it can also be revealed that a further three branches have shut down within the last three months.
The Post Office denied claims it was mounting a closure programme by the back door and said its staff were committed to seeing branches reopen.
A spokesman said the Post Office network in the North East is “stable” and it was had no plans to permanently close branches.
Last month, the Forest-in-Teesdale branch reopened after it had been closed for more than five years.
A Post Office spokesperson said:
“There is no closure programme and the size of the Post Office network in the North East remains broadly stable as for example there were 489 branches open and trading in March 2014 compared with 491 in March 2011.
“There is a natural churn in the network and there can be occasions when Post Office branches do temporarily close for reasons beyond our control, and in these cases a branch will only remain vacant for a period where no suitable premises or an applicant for the role of postmaster has been identified, and we always work hard to restore the service.
“If a Post Office is temporarily closed it is not included in the numbers of open and trading branches.
“Post Office Ltd is engaged in the largest investment and modernisation programme in its history, which marks a commitment to no more branch closure programmes.
“Examples of cases where we have successfully restored post office services in the North East after periods of temporary closure include Forest-in-Teesdale, Normanby, Gunnerton, Blackhall Mill, Bede Trading Estate and High Grange.”
Closed for 0-3 months
Crookham, TD12 4SY
High Street, NE8 1EQ
Pittington, DH6 1AT
Closed for over a year
Burnopfield, NE16 6LX
Cleadon Park, NE34 8PL
Stonehaugh, NE48 3DY
West End Newbiggin, NE64 6UY
Closed for over two years
Shotley Bridge, DH8 0HQ
Closed for over 3 Years
East Rainton, DH5 9QT
Grange Estate, TS18 4LT
Victoria Street, TS6 6HT
Closed for over four Years
Stainton, TS8 9AG
Newfield, DH2 2SL
Closed for over five Years
Aycliffe, DL5 6JT
Eldon Lane, DL14 8TD
Kelloe, DH6 4PD
Matfen, NE20 0RP
Orchard, TS16 0EH
Roseberry Square, TS10 4EL
Stamfordham, NE18 0LA
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
Stockton MP James Wharton received £22,000 in donations between July and September – the fifth largest amount donated to any individual MP during the period.
The donations amount to almost as much as the £29,400 received by the whole of the Plaid Cymru party in the same timeframe.
No other Tees MP received individual donations in that time period, according to the data collated by Trinity Mirror.
But several donations were made to constituency party offices on Teesside.
Mr Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, received two donations of £10,000 each and one of £2,000.
One of the donations worth £10,000 was given by former Conservative party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas.
The other was given by company JCB Research Ltd – owned by Anthony Bramford, a Tory life peer and chairman of construction equipment firm JCB.
The remaining £2,000 was donated by IPGL Ltd – a privately-owned holding company of a trading group, based in London.
Mr Wharton told The Gazette he would “not spend public money on my newsletters or leaflets”.
“I work hard to stay in touch with residents all year round – not just at election time,” he said.
“I am pleased to do this without spending taxpayers money.
“I am sure many taxpayers in our area will appreciate that too.”
> Perhaps they should withold judgement until they’ve seen what he claims on expenses…
The donations will help Mr Wharton, one of only two Conservative MPs in the North-east, as he seeks to defend a majority of just 332 at next year’s General Election.
He has previously received separate donations in 2013 from former Newcastle United chairman Sir John Hall and Alexander Temerko, a Russian businessman.
Mr Temerko was allowed to stay in Britain after a judge ruled an attempt to extradite him to Russia on fraud charges was politically motivated.
As such, he is allowed to make political donations.
Mr Wharton has also received funding from the United and Cecil Club.
The organisation has come under the spotlight after supporting Tory candidates in a number of key marginals.
Under funding rules, wealthy supporters can give up to £7,500 without disclosing their identity if it is funnelled through a club.
Among other political donations on Teesside from July to September were:
:: £2,500 donated in Stockton South to the Conservative party from The Association of Conservative Clubs Ltd;
:: £1,700 worth of administration fees donated in Stockton South to the Labour party from UNISON;
:: £2,500 donated in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to the Conservatives from a Richard E Jones;
:: £1,200 donated in Redcar to the Lib Dems from the Redcar and Cleveland Lib Dem Council Group;
:: £1,000 donated in Redcar to Labour from David Blunkett (the Gazette was unable to verify if this was the former home secretary);
:: £2,500 donated in Redcar to Labour from the Communication Workers Union.
The largest donation received between July and September this year was to the value of £950,000.
It was given to the Liberal Democrats by a George G Watson.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Nov 2014