Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Last Post

a Post Office sign Guest Post from Morris Hickey.

Is there a post office near to where you live? How often do you use it? Can you be sure that it will still be open at the end of this year?

Several post offices in or close to Redbridge have already closed. Five more are earmarked for closure. Two of the five are in Area 3, namely, Simmons in Fencepiece Road, and Costcutter in New North Road near to Hainault Station. One of the criteria set out by the Post Office for closures is that there must be an alternative within one mile. Is that within one mile of the office identified for closure, or is it within one mile of the customer? In some cases the identified alternatives are already used well beyond their capacity.

One of the reasons for significant reductions in the use of post offices by the public is that government decisions have taken away the core business from post offices. State pensions and other benefits can no longer be paid with vouchers at your local post office, although some have a cash withdrawal facility with a bank-style card. The government has boosted the business of the banks by insisting on making payments through bank accounts. This has forced people who never had a bank account to open one, and also expose themselves to the banks’ threats to levy charges on current accounts. Television licences are also no longer available through the post office, and your car tax can now be paid on line.

My nearest post office used to be within about 150 yards of the borough boundary at 169 Manor Road, Chigwell but located outside Redbridge. It was, however, the nearest post office for many living in the north-west corner of Hainault Ward. After it ceased payment of benefits its postage stamp sales fell by an alarming 70% other than the busy Christmas period. The monopoly on sale of postage stamps ended a long time ago. It closed in February 2008. The stated alternatives are Lambourne Road Chigwell Row (1.3 miles), Brook Parade Chigwell (1.1 miles), and Manford Way (just 1 mile). The post office at Manford Way, however, will be more than 1 mile from the homes of many of the former users of Manor Road, and also further than the stated distance from the two other alternatives.

And what of Manford Way? I had occasion to use it recently. Yes, alright – so that I could renew my freedom pass! The exterior is scruffy and uninviting. The posting boxes are no longer in use and have been sealed. The interior is dingy and filthy but despite this it has queues of customers that move forward at a snail-pace. One reason for the fact that it does so much business is probably the closure of 169 Manor Road. The business at Manford Way is not operated directly by the Post Office but by a franchisee. The premises are not owned by the Post Office, who presumably have some responsibility for their appearance. The owner is Redbridge Council who, on good property management grounds, ought to be insisting on far better standards of maintenance and appearance.

In the case of the two impending closures, I would congratulate Councillor Keith Prince for taking an active interest in the situation. The nominated alternative for Costcutter is the dreary premises at Manford Way, and Keith has already ascertained that they are more than a mile away. The alternative for the Simmons branch is Barkingside High Street where there is even now a queue that often extends through the door to the footway outside. It cannot reasonably take any more business than it now has.

Lee Scott, our Member of Parliament, has also been very active in this matter. At one meeting that he had with senior managers from the Post Office responsible for the “rationalisation” programme he mentioned the closure of 169 Manor Road that had already taken place. They expressed surprise that closure was even contemplated. Fills one full of confidence doesn’t it?


  1. I understand the alleged reason for PO closures is the application of competition legislation enforced by the EU.

    Normally, I am against State subsidies in principle, and certainly providing pensions in cash via the PO was a very costly business. However, I cannot understand why instead of taking business away from the PO, such as TV licences, the Govt didn't widen their remit. And there is also a case for some subsidy in rural areas, where POs do provide an important community service.

  2. The situation at Manford Way defies logic, in as much as they close the post boxes at the post office and build a new post box 40 metres down the road, but then have sacks available in the post office itself, Is it me thats stupid or some one else?

  3. No one uses Post Offices' really anymore. Those that do spend a few pence, if that. 90% of benefits are paid into peoples bank accounts, if not higher. There is nothing you can do at the Post Office apart from post a package etc. We are always told that we live in a capitalist world, where you get nothing for free and business' must make money. That's the message the miners got from Maggie Thatcher! If local branches aren't making money they should be closed. I do not want my tax re-directed to Post Offices from essential services or our armed forces. If you want to keep Post Offices open, get down there and spend your dosh!!

  4. I understand all points of view. BUT lets not forget many elderly people dont have bank acc's or B.S. books. They cannot walk miles 'uptown' so to speak to get their money.

    Some find buses too dangerous, physically. They are (QUITE RIGHTLY)reluctant to give pin numbers out for someone else to collect their money. Others renew their bus passes and oversea mail is weighed to all their relatives that have left them alone, they seek advice. They are not as able to get out or 'with it' as we are here on our puters. They are frightened that the modern world is leaving them behind at a fast pace. Until we can sort their concerns out, leave the Post Offices alone!
    Ron King

  5. Lee Scott MP is just interested in trying to undermine the government and seek votes. The fact is, if the Tories were in power they would do the same thing. The simple law of commerce dictates that if a business does not make money it cannot survive. The same is true of the Post Office. The same people who chastiste the government and argue for Post Offices to remain open are the same who spend a few pennys only at the counter!! The world has changed dramatically, internet shopping, bills online, banking etc. The role of the Post Office has changed and will continue to evolve. But one thing is sure, no business can operate at a loss.

  6. "Anonymous" 7 April 18.28, and also 8 April 16.42, is one of those gutless wonders who hides behind a cloak of anonymity rather than disclose a true identity.

  7. Just because someone argues against your opinion Mr Hickey, there is no need to be so offensive to others. Once you do that, then you have completely lost the argument.

  8. Anon: and how would you describe Ilford South's Labour MP, Mike Gapes, who has "fought" against PO closures yet voted with his Govt to go ahead with said closures?

    Sure, private businesses go under if they don't make a profit, but the PO is a State service - of course it should be run efficiently, but if the Govt itself is removing the means of it at least breaking even, you have to query what is going on.

    And making wild generalisations of PO usage by commenters here is silly. I don't get my pension at my local office, but I use it at least once a month for other matters.

  9. Then just have the courage, anonymous, to identify yourself. If you do not then people are entitled to dismiss the views that you express.

  10. "but I use it at least once a month for other matters". This has proven my point. How can a business survive or make ends meet if people only spend a few pennys once a month, if that! A Tesco, Sainsbury, Woolworths could never put up with that. The Post Office is run as an arms length organisation. It must make ends meet within it's own resources. It cannot be subsidised by the tax payer. A business must make money. The miners had to learn that to there cost in the 80s. I'm suprised so called Tory members cannot see that. It is all too easy to use this cyncially as a political stick to hit Labour with. But, if in government, Tory or Lib Dem would both have to do the same thing.

    The previous Conservative and now Labour governments started the ball rollilng to open the Post office up to competition. The Government instructed the high street banks to offer basic bank accounts to everyone on pensions and benefits, this was to enable the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to pay the money direct into peoples accounts to reduce fraud and increase efficiency savings for the tax payer. This is normal practice a private company would engage in. One of technology's many benefits is to reduce costs e.g. postage etc.

    This reduced the amount of people going to the post office to draw pension money, or cash a giro, and as a result they became not so much an essential part of the community as they once were.

    The closures are proof that the post offices are not as highly used and profitable as they once were, and are now mainly a place where you post a parcel or pick up a car tax disc, these loss making buisnesses are costing the tax payer money. That cannot be right, no amount of harking back to the old days can solve that. We live in a modern world and must move with it. Otherwise we merely stagnate and our economy suffers.

  11. ".... so called Tory members...". Ones who are not afraid to disclose their names.

  12. B21 believes in free speech [within reason] and the right of contributors to remain anonymous. Anonymity does not detract from the view itself.
    However, it would be nice if anons used a pseudonym so we can identify one anon from another. I might do a comments policy.

  13. Anon - how flattering that you obviously follow me into the Post Office each month; unfortunately, you obviously don't come close enough to see that I spend more than a few pennies when I'm there.

    I visit Waitrose about once a month too, on average - they are doing remarkably well: I wonder if it's anything to do with ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE who go there too?

    I have nothing against different ways of delivering services being developed; if stand-alone POs can't at least break even, then putting a PO counter into an existing retail unit should be encouraged.

  14. My apologies, my point was not meant as a slight to you, but as a wider example of the problems the Post office face. One has to remember that some of the counters that aren't making money are in existing retail outlets such as convenience or other retail stores. They are still not breaking even to cover the cost of administration needed for it to be run by the Post Office. I accept that a lot of the decline is due to the government opening up the Post Office to competition and handing a large part of it's remit to banks etc. But, I believe, the world has moved on too much. The internet and email has radically changed how we used to operate. How many of us hand on heart send more letters than emails? Business must make money or face the consequences. Just as happened to the miners, who were more severly affected by a change in industry. If people want their Post office to be successful, they need to use the most powerful tool - people power. They need to spend money and turn a local post office into a "cash cow" rather than a "dog" [ business cycle terminology]. Many of the most vociferous users of the internet I know are elderly, they relish the new technology and the ease in which their pension is paid into their bank accounts. It gives them more time to enjoy themselves in socil activities from bowls to gardening to adult learning courses etc.

  15. I have posted my view on Redbridgei, i'm of the mind that it's a business first and formost that should not be subsidised by the taxpayer.

    Small business's go to the wall every week and no one bats an eyelid, apart from those who own said bust business's.

    I tried to post on Redbridgei the abysmal service in Manford Way post office, and how the franchisee can be obnoxious, and claim there are some things he cannot deal with, and will send the customer to Barkingside post office (usually around closing time on a Friday afternoon)

    Redbridgei would not allow that part of the posting, (as it is predudicial, and clearly identifies someone).

    I was trying to be sympathetic to the previous poster on Redbridgei regarding Meads Lane not being able to deal with some transactions, and having to go to the main post office with appalling counter service, similar to Barkingside.

    I sent in a complaint about the franchisee in Manford Way (he did not know the law regarding the issue of selling a tax disc via just the new keepers supplement, section 10 (V5C/2) on the V5C, despite the law being clearly stated on the back of the V5C/2!
    The New Keeper (Buyer)can use this section in place of the full Registration Certificate to obtain a vehicle excise licence at ANY licence issuing post office or DVLA Local Office.
    Barkingside Post Office explained they had many complaints regarding the franschisee, it was hardly surprising that Post Office counters Ltd failed to respond to a written and emailed complaint, even when the complaint was followed up.

    When head office cannot respond to serious concerns regarding the ability of a franschisee to run the business, then you know they really could not care less.

    We are now reaping the rewards of technology, years of underinvestment, and increased competition.

    Manford Way Post Office is in an appalling state, I fear if they are asked to improve the place, that too may well close.

    As for politicians cynically exploiting policies that they first introduced, i'm sure the electorate, or at least those that can read, can see the charade for what it is.

    Hypocracy? Never, opportunity =)


  16. Why are the Tory Council not following Essex County Councils work to use local post offices as a tool for local Council payments / information centres. I don't know anyone who goes to little Pakistain (Ilford) anymore, so going to the 'one stop shop' is impossible. Surely the Post offices are good places for the Tory council to highlight / promote local services. Although, I don't expect an answer from Alan Weinburger ala tricky dicky.