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Business / Lerwick post office closure proposal triggers angry response

The post office on Commercial Street. Photo: Shetland News

PLANS to close the main branch of the Lerwick Post Office and shift the service to nearby retail premises in Commercial Street have been roundly condemned.

In a letter to customers on Wednesday, Post Office Ltd informed islanders of its plans to move the service to the Conochies shop early next year.

A consultation on the move, described by the company as necessary to “secure the long term viability” of its services in Lerwick, opened yesterday [Wednesday].

The news triggered a long thread of negative comments on Shetland News’ Facebook page, describing the proposal as “awful”, “pretty rubbish” and “ridiculous” among others.

Defending its decision the company said it was not immune to the pressures facing all retailers.

“We must respond to the unprecedented change taking place on high streets and adapt to changing customer needs,” a Post Office spokesman said.

But local resident and former Post Office employee Billy Doig said postal services have never been the same since Post Office Ltd became independent of the Royal Mail Group in 2012.

“How on earth can Conochies cope? Doors [are] not wide enough and no room to swing a cat.

“Post Office has never been the same since they split it up and privatised it.

“I’ve worked there and still have friends and family working there. Hopefully common sense will prevail but obviously not much of it about.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart meanwhile said it looked to her as though “a major decision about a community service has been made prior to consultation”.

“We deserve to know when and why the Post Office decided that this change was necessary, and how they awarded the retail partnership in the absence of any public discussions,” she said.

“It is essential that this is a full consultation, not just a tick box exercise by the Post Office. That is the only way that people can trust that their needs will be heard.”

Her colleague Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael added: “For the Post Office to decide to close the main branch and then consult only on its replacement is unacceptable.

“Making major changes to a keystone service impacts everyone in the community, in Lerwick and the rest of Shetland. It is far more than a simple commercial decision and it should not be imposed on us from on high.

“The Post Office has got off to a bad start here. It is in their interest as well as the interest of the people of Shetland that they launch a full consultation before going any further. This is a question of trust, and respect for local needs.”

The Post Office spokesperson continued saying: “We need to offer our customers greater convenience, by making sure that our services are available when and where people want them. This means easily accessible locations, with longer opening hours.

“The proposed new branch in Lerwick will be open on Sundays which means customers can visit the Post Office seven days a week.”

“Although we have announced our proposals to franchise the Lerwick branch, we are holding a six week consultation with the community and local stakeholders on our plans – the public consultation will run until 23 October.

“We would only ever proceed with our proposals once we are satisfied that services can be sustained and the needs of our customers met.”