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SIC - Free Tyre Check - 22 Nov 2019

Politics / Politicians highly critical of Post Office ‘fait accompli’

Local LibDem politicians Beatrice Wishart MSP and Alistair Carmichael MP. Photos: Shetland News

SHETLAND politicians Alistair Carmichael and Beatrice Wishart are demanding a “full and open consultation” on the future of the isles’ main post office in Lerwick’s Commercial Street.

An existing consultation, which the pair alleges has “serious procedural flaws”, is due to finish next Friday.

Carmichael, MP for the Northern Isles, and recently elected MSP Wishart, have published their submission to Post Office Ltd over the proposed relocation of the “directly managed” Lerwick branch, which would be moved to Conochies newsagent.

The letter outlines constituent concerns over the proposed move and demands guarantees on the future quality of the service.

The co-signed submission says: “We call on the Post Office to launch a true, open consultation on the closure of the independent Branch Office at 46 Commercial St, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0EH, and the proposed move to a new location with a retail partner.

“Above all, it is essential that there are cast-iron guarantees that any changes to the Post Office infrastructure in Lerwick will not lead to a lower quality service in the long term.

“The most immediate concern is that the Post Office decided to close the main branch and then consult only on its replacement. Our understanding is that the first that local staff knew about the closure was when the area manager attended a staff training session on 10 September, stating that the branch office would be closing and moving to Conochies.

“This suggests that the changes being proposed are intended as a fait accompli with no meaningful input from the community taken into consideration.”

Carmichael said later: “We’ve tried to give the benefit of the doubt to the Post Office, but it is clear that there are serious procedural flaws in the way that they have handled the proposal to close the Post Office and to relocate it to a shop.

“There is a deep and growing concern in the community about the impact of these proposed changes. People are understandably frustrated at what appears to be an attempt to impose an unwanted change on Lerwick.

“It is no good holding a consultation when at every step of the way you tell the public that the decision is already made and that it can’t be changed. Post Office leadership should remember that this is a publicly-owned service. It must be accountable to the community.”

Wishart added: “The Post Office plans are a substantial change that will affect users across Shetland, not just in Lerwick. The current location has important benefits for customer privacy and access that must not be compromised.

“The lack of proper consultation is not respectful to the staff involved or service users. The Post Office needs to pause to allow proper time for community scrutiny.”

The letter says: “This is far more than a simple commercial decision and it should not be imposed before a genuine community consultation.”

It adds that Post Office Ltd appeared to award the retail partnership with limited public input.

“The fact that virtually no-one appears to know that the partnership tender was advertised suggests that the news was not widely distributed, and we have no information on where the news was shared. This again undermines the transparency of the decision-making process,” it adds.

It is also critical of the timescale of the consultation. “This made it impossible for Shetlanders to give a fully informed response to the survey at the time when they were most likely to respond.”

The letter also outlines doubts about the lack of privacy and space at Conochies for both staff and customers. Further worries are the lack of space for cars on Commercial Street, which is supposed to be a pedestrian precinct, outside the shop.

“There have also been comments by Post Office employees that this will lead to the removal of Royal Mail facilities to another location. This contradicts assurances given by Royal Mail and threatens to undermine the quality of the service given,” the letter adds.

It also says that “a branch change should not be used as an excuse to undermine staff conditions.”

“We hope that the Post Office will launch a full consultation into not just the commercial site move, but the entire plan to close the existing independent branch office. The planned changes will have wide-ranging consequences for Lerwick and Shetland as a whole, and we request that the Post Office make a full commitment, whatever the outcome of the consultation, to ensuring the same level of access and service for Shetlanders to the Post Office services in the future,” the letter concludes.

The company was asked to respond to the politicians’ comment but responded by only saying: “We’d like to thank the local community for taking part in the public consultation about the relocation of Lerwick Post Office.

“The consultation will end on 23 October, and we will then begin the process of considering all the feedback we received. We will let the community know once we have reached a final decision.”

Post Office Ltd held a poorly attended relocation briefing in Lerwick Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

Many local people commented that the meeting had been poorly advertised and that they only knew of the event after reading a report at Shetland News.

General Election - 12 December 2019