Response from Margot James MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to my petition:
The petition of Edinburgh South,
Declares that the government has forced a transformation programme on the Post Office that has placed Crown Post Offices and local branches in jeopardy; further that the only independent report carried out on franchising found that the Crown Office closure and franchising programme had been bad for customers, ranking franchises worse than Crown Offices across a range of indicators including queue times, service times, customer service and advice on products, disabled access and staffed counter positions; and further that the Post Office has already spent money refurbishing the Crown Offices it is now closing and franchising, with £5.9 million spent since 2010 on refurbishing the 59 Crown Offices that the Post Office announced it would close and franchise in 2016, an average of £100,000 per branch.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to suspend the Crown Office closure and franchising programme and instead ensure the Post Office works with Crown branches, including Morningside Post Office, to make them more efficient and profitable.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Ian Murray , Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1069 .]
Observation from The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James):
The Government recognise the value of Post Office services to local communities across the country and understand that any potential change to service provision can cause uncertainty for the community and that some residents may hold strong views regarding this. The network is at its most stable in decades due to the significant investment that has been made to maintain and protect it. This investment has delivered the refreshed customer environments, increased opening hours and efficiency of operation which is needed to succeed in the competitive and changing markets in which the Post Office operates.
The Post Office operates as an independent business and the Government do not play a role in the day-to-day operational responsibilities of the company, which include decisions on the provision and location of individual Post Office services.
The Post Office’s rationale in looking for a franchise partner for some of its Crown branches is to ensure continued access to Post Office services for customers in the area in a way that is sustainable for the long-term. It is important that the business can ensure it has the right branches in the right locations to respond to changing consumer and market demands. Communities do not lose their post office. It is either franchised on-site or relocated to a nearby location, often on the high street, typically offering the same wide range of Post Office services.
Franchising of its Crown offices has proven a successful approach in the past and working with a retail partner is a sensible response to the challenges facing high street retailers, with the benefit of shared overheads across the combined Post Office and retail business, including property and staff costs, with the host retailer also benefiting from increased footfall and income from Post Office products. Before the Post Office considers franchising a branch it undertakes detailed work to assess its long-term viability. The vast majority of the network (over 97%) already operates on a franchise basis.
When making changes to a branch, the Post Office is aware of the needs of its customers, including its elderly and disabled customers, and works with the new partner to ensure that customer access both into and within the store meets Post Office’s accessibility standards and all applicable statutory requirements. Both the Post Office and its franchise partners are also committed to providing a quality service to their customers. Overall customer satisfaction levels with the Post Office across its network are good, with levels of satisfaction over service and wait time acceptability both consistently very high. A recent report on the network published by Citizen’s Advice found that former Crown branches are performing in line with or better than traditional Crowns, in terms of access into and inside the branch as well as the quality of service.
The Post Office regularly invests in all its branches to ensure they are in modern and secure retail environments. Investment made will have benefited customers and staff during that time and some of that investment will be transferable, for example such as with re-use of equipment and IT.