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Community / Post offices provide a vital public service but lose out financially, MP tells parliament

LOCAL people running sub-post offices are taken advantage of by Post Office Ltd, according to isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Leading a debate in the House of Commons on the financial challenges faced by sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, the Northern Isles MP called for a new settlement to make running post offices viable again.

A number of examples from across Orkney and Shetland quoted by the MP during the debate on Tuesday afternoon demonstrated how the small businesses were de facto subsidising the government owned Post Office.

The MP called on the Tory government to show leadership and respect for the “army of public servants (…) who provide a tremendous service for our communities”, who above all “need fair pay for the work that they do”.

On the specific cases of sub-post offices in Orkney and Shetland, Carmichael told the Commons: “My interest was really caught by one of the sub-postmasters in Shetland, Brian Smith, who runs the Freefield sub-post office in Lerwick, which is one of the bigger sub-post offices in Shetland.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

“He came to me, showed me the figures and said quite simply ‘how do I make a living from this?’

“I went back to see my constituent last week and he showed me his remuneration note. He is open for 51 hours per week, with two people serving. He pays above minimum wage, but at minimum wage that would be £1,071 per week, which would be £4,641 per calendar month for wages only – before even turning on a light switch or heater.

“His income from the Post Office in that month was £4,153.56. I can find no better illustration of the mismatch between what sub-postmasters need by way of remuneration and what they actually receive.

“I think of the example of the post office in the village where I live [Evie]. He has taken what was a good Orkney country shop and brought in a whole range of different fresh foods – Orkney fish, Orkney beef, everything. The quality of what we can get in that shop now is phenomenal, but he tells me it costs him to have a sub-post office counter in the business.

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“That should be something that adds value, but we are seeing the determination and commitment of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses around the country being taken advantage of.

“Juliet Bellis, who runs the sub-post office in Fetlar, makes the point that elderly and infirm residents there rely on the post office to charge up their electricity keys.

“She says: ‘I am contracted to open for eight hours per week, but I have trained up everyone who works in the shop so that, if the shop is open, the post office is available.

“The Post Office is therefore getting 35 hours from me in the summer and 15 hours a week in the winter. For this I get paid £390.90 per month, slightly above the current minimum wage if I opened for eight hours per week’.

“The same point was made to me by Valerie Johnson, who is the sub-postmistress at Baltasound, Unst. She pointed out that holiday pay is contracted to cover roughly £5 per hour, but there has been no update since 2016.”

Shetland News has previously highlighted the mismatch between Post Office Ltd funding and the real cost of running a sub-post office here.

Reduced government subsidy behind proposed post office move, says Freefield owner


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