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Community / Union remains ‘totally opposed’ to Lerwick post office move

CWU rep understands that current staff have decided against transferring to new outlet

The old post office on Commercial Street. Photo: Shetland News

THE COMMUNICATIONS Workers Union (CWU) says it is “totally opposed” to plans to move services out of the Commercial Street Post Office in Lerwick.

CWU representative Carole Bowmaker also said she understands that all of the employees at the post office will leave the company instead of transferring to the new service within newsagents Conochies, also on Commercial Street.

Post Office Ltd said it was unable to comment on staffing matters.

Conochies, however, is currently recruiting for full-time and part-time post office clerks.

Post Office Ltd confirmed in January that it is to press ahead with closing the office and franchise out the service to nearby newsagents Conochies.

The post office on the street, which is a rare example of a Crown building directly managed by Post Office Ltd, is set to close its doors at 5pm on 26 February.

Once services move out, Post Office Ltd will look to sell the property or lease it for an alternative use.

A consultation was held into the proposals, which have attracted criticism from residents and politicians, last year.

CWU representative Bowmaker, who is based in Glasgow, told Shetland News that the closure “will result in a loss of experience to the local community”.

“Such franchises often mean a reduction in access, services and staffing levels plus a lessening in quality of service, received by customers,” she said.

“New staff are usually paid the minimum wage, which in turn does nothing to support the local community.”

The Freefield post office within the Toll Clock Shopping Centre, for instance, is franchised out to a sub-postmaster who runs services from within Clocktower Cards.

Its owner Brian Smith admitted last year that he loses around £6,000 a year on providing postal services as the financial package from Post Office Ltd “just isn’t enough to cover the costs”.

He said that increased footfall into the shop, however, covers the loss.

After confirming in January that the move would go ahead, Post Office Ltd said with regards to staffing: “In respect of the team working at the current branch, we have a strong track record of supporting our people through change.

“We will do all that we can to find a solution that works for each individual within the options available.”

Bowmaker, meanwhile, said that Crown offices now only represent less than one per cent of the Post Office’s outlets, “but tellingly [they] deliver a significantly higher percentage of sales, compared with other outlets”.

She said the Lerwick plans are “part of an acceleration of the Post Office board’s policy to close all Crown post offices in the UK.”

“Unfortunately, the current Post Office board’s short sighted business plan, only involves the closure of all Crown Office post offices,” Bowmaker added.

“This is now happening at pace, as the Post Office now have to pay sub-postmasters millions of pounds for the appalling governance and management they received, in light of the damning verdict [over a faulty IT system] handed to them by the High Courts.

“The current board have turned this once major, trusted high street brand, into a company who increasingly have no home of their own and rely on other, often much troubled high street companies, to house them.”

A spokesman for Post Office Ltd said in response: “The Post Office is committed to keeping our services at the heart of communities which we know is hugely important to people.

“This change in Lerwick means we can continue to do that, into the future. We are making sure we take the right action to sustain services for years to come.

“The new franchised branch will offer the same range of services and will open for longer hours than currently.”

Conochies opens on a Sunday, unlike the Commercial Street office, meaning that there should be postal services seven days a week, including longer hours on a Saturday.

The new Post Office area in Conochies is set to be located within a dedicated area at the left of the store.

There will be three serving positions, which have been based on current and forecast future business levels; one open plan position and one traditional screened position which will also provide travel money services, and a service point at the retail counter.

The main counter would be open Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5.30pm, providing customers access to services for an extra eight hours a week.

The serving position located at the retail till will offer customers a selected range of Post Office products and services, without having to join the main queue, over extended hours Monday to Saturday 9am to 5.30pm and Sundays from midday to 5pm.

The move has caused concern from some locals over disabled parking and access, with the current Commercial Street office featuring disabled bays opposite outside the RBS bank.

When referring to parking for Conochies, the Post Office points to the pay and display car park at Victoria Pier, which has three designated disabled bays, or parking at Church Road or Hill Lane.

However, it does note that customers can drop off outside the branch up until 11.30am Monday to Saturday, as well as Sundays, and blue badge holders at any time.

The Post Office also said it would be contacting local disability groups to take them through the layout of the new branch before it opens.

Conochies was approached for comment but referred matters to the Post Office, while it is understood post office staff have been told not to speak publicly about the process.