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
Tories who selected a parliamentary candidate who lives 240 miles away to stand in County Durham have been accused of being “deeply patronising” to voters.
Charlotte Haitham-Taylor, the Conservative vying for the safe Labour seat of North West Durham, has rented a home in Shotley Bridge and was chosen to stand for the party in August.
However, she is also a councillor at Wokingham Borough Council, and this week faced calls to stand down from her role as Lead Member for Children’s Services.
Opponents in Berkshire say she cannot be a ‘part time head of department’, but rivals for the Durham seat say Ms Haitham-Taylor should not have been selected by David Cameron’s party to run in the North East seat at all.
Owen Temple, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate, said: “The Conservatives’ approach to our constituency is deeply patronising.
“Election after election they put up a candidate from the other end of the country (Maidstone in 2005, Cambridge in 2010, and now Berkshire) who is never seen again once the election is over.
“If they want to be taken seriously they need to develop a local candidate. The problem is there just are no local Conservatives.”
Pat Glass, the incumbent Labour MP for the constituency, said: “I think that Ms Haitham-Taylor needs to be open about where she lives.
“It appears that she is telling people in North West Durham that she is local and has moved to Shotley Bridge whilst at the same time telling the people of Wokingham that she is only renting in Shotley Bridge and her home is in Wokingham.
“I think that the people of North West Durham deserve to be represented by someone that not only lives in North West Durham but also shares an understanding of the issues that are important to them and affects their daily lives but also shares some collective history with them.”
When approached for a comment, Ms Haitham-Taylor said she had rented the Shotley Bridge home at her own cost and had committed considerable time with voters in County Durham already.
However, the Tory campaigner, who is a mum-of-one and a professional fine artist, also made a press statement hitting out at her critics in Wokingham and insisting her role with the Berkshire council was more important.
She told the BBC: “I can understand why they might have concerns but I want to assure them that I absolutely prioritise my duties of lead membership for children’s services.
“That is incredibly important to me. I will not desert my role in order to put my canvassing in North West Durham ahead of that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Sept 2014