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
> A whistleblower’s account of what really goes on…though I doubt it’ll come as a suprise to anyone who’s done time on the WP.
I took on a full-time job as a student in the summer holidays. The interview was fairly standard and the company advertised the role as a customer management assistant that helped people get back into work.
However, as I started my new job, I began to notice that it wasn’t the caring compassionate company that it had advertised itself as. My position involved taking calls from “clients”, these were both Job Centre advisors from over London and the South West as well as Job Centre customers who called us directly.
The calls were to make appointments to put the customers onto their first meeting with their work program advisors. Other calls from direct customers were either for this same reason, as they had been instructed to, or to cancel an upcoming appointment.
What I discovered however, as my time there ticked along, was that our company was paid directly from the government for every individual they successfully “engaged” onto the Work Programme (WP) – a rough estimate of £1000. For every six weeks that person was in employment the company would be paid another £300 to £400; in fact the centre had a completely separate section called In Work Support, solely to make sure that the customers employment was maintained.
At the end of twenty-six weeks in paid employment the company would then be paid another lump sum of at least £1000. This meant that for every individual successfully engaged into employment through the WP the company would be paid approximately £3000 to £4000.
Now, let’s just deal with that for a second.
This is one company of many. With roughly 100 staff over all departments. The question that I pondered constantly was how is it cheaper to fund these centres and its staff with its financial incentives, how is that effective and where could that money be dispersed for the greater good?
A second but more important point is the effect that the pressure of this had on people. I was called on one occasion by a man who had his JSA stopped. This man was homeless and currently living in a shelter, yet he had been contacted on his mobile by his job centre that were insistent that he make an appointment to see an employment consultant, before his money would be reinstated. Money that he picked up from the post office. I spent a relatively long time just speaking to him, getting to know his situation and trying to help him as best I could. A lot of the available appointments that we had on our books clashed with meetings at his job centre. He took what he was being made to do in his stride but I found it a pointless exercise. He was homeless yet this wasn’t a priority. Without a fixed abode he would not be able to start a bank account and without a bank account he would not be able to find legitimate employment.
Another gentleman called me, enquiring about his(ESA) claim. He had been sent a letter stating that he needed to attend this particular appointment or his money would be stopped, however he very calmly and politely told me that he couldn’t get to this specific date and time as he had to undergo dialysis three times a week. Dialysis! Yet he was being forced onto the WP with threats to stop his money [if he failed to do so].
I worked mainly with(JSA) customers, however on other occasions I did also deal with ESA claims. I had people call [me] in tears, telling me they didn’t know what to do or where to turn. These people were being blackmailed into the WP so that our company could receive it’s pound of flesh, it’s profit, it’s blood money.
We received weekly emails from the CEO who visited the centre on two occasions, encouraging us to engage the customers, giving us statistics on our success rate and constantly telling us “engage, engage, engage”, even with promises of bonuses. It was also discussed in these emails the bad press and statistics of those who had been forced on the WP and had committed suicide, it does happen and it is being ignored. Now, I wish I had saved some of those emails.
Eventually, when I saw it for what it really was, I decided I could no longer stay there. A few weeks previous to my leaving, I was taken into the manager’s office as she pointed out all the things I had done wrong; joking with the customers, not engaging them. I knew what I was doing. Soon after I handed in my notice, the job was to save up for my wedding but morally I couldn’t stay there.
I’ve never before seen such a vulgar display of capitalism exploiting the poor, the disabled and the sick.
The money that is poured into these centres I have no doubt could be put to better use. Training centres, volunteering, computer access. Why do these places still exist and yet the government are cutting welfare that will affect EVERYONE?
People are genuinely being pushed into stress, depression and in some cases suicide. This is real, this is happening! The WP needs to be either seriously reassessed or shut down.
I feel it is my civil duty to share my experience and to make you all aware that the work program doesn’t work!
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 January 2014