Rushlake Green Village Leaf

Green Shoots

Last Post for Rushlake Green

Many will by now have heard the shocking and frustrating news that our village post office, in its present form, is due to close shortly. The Post Office has announced that the closure will take place on 30 August 2012. The Post Office statement reads:
". . . it remains our intention to keep a post office service in Rushlake Green and we are currently investigating the options available. Our priority is to maintain post office services to local communities and it is therefore important that any future service is sustainable for the person operating the service, and for Post Office Ltd. . ."

These are carefully chosen words and it seems likely that Post Office Ltd will in practice offer to retain only a minimal 'Outreach' service, provided from the counter of the shop. It won’t be a stand alone sub post office as it is now, and the service will unfortunately not be provided by Sandy, even though she has been our conscientious and valued sub post mistress for all these years. It is a shame that the Post Office is unable to show the same loyalty to our community as Sandy has.

Death by a thousand cuts

From the earliest days of the universal postal service in Britain, local sub post offices have been a central feature of rural community life. But over the past three decades, local post offices have come under increasing pressure on two fronts. On the one hand, the services offered by post offices have been gradualy eroded - mainly by other delivery channels. Bill payments, tax discs, pension payments, TV licences, savings accounts and many other services are now increasingly being offered online or through other providers. On the other hand, our use of postal services has also steadily reduced - particularly with the advent of email, social media etc. These twin pressures, reducing both the range of products, and the demand for services, have meant that small post offices have increasingly been running at a loss - reliant on government subsidy for their existence.

Since the 1980s, under pressure from successive Governments to reduce its losses, the Post Office has been trying to whittle down its network of increasingly unprofitable sub post offices. But until recently, the public's affection for local post offices meant that wholesale closures were too politically sensitive to contemplate. So instead we saw a steady drip drip of attempted closures, each time justified by poor local demand. When this was threatened, stronger local communities were sometimes able to prevent these closures through concerted local action involving MPs, local Parish Councils, local press and TV, campaign groups and local meetings, to put pressure on the Post Office.

Different rules

It was in March 2011 that we reported the worrying news that the Postal Services Bill contained plans that could put even well-used small post offices such as ours in jeopardy. That bill marked a radical shift in strategy by the Post Office. Now the game is being played differently, with the odds tipped against small villages like ours. Instead of simply closing sub post offices, Post Office Ltd now offers alternative operating 'models' that often in practice make it impossible for the service to survive. In many cases, sub post offices can only remain open if they agree to become a ‘post office local’ in which many of the subsidies, including payments to staff, are largely stripped away leaving it to the associated retail business to find a way of making the post office counter profitable enough to remain. This marks a departure from the traditional sub post office franchise (in which the sub post master/mistress is paid by the Post Office) to a new model in which the local post office services are essentially provided by local retailers who are expected to absorb most of the costs involved in exchange for the supposed increase in retail sales that result from the footfall generated. And when these new style post offices close because the shopkeepers cannot afford to run them, or the local shop is not able negotiate a viable formula for the transfer, the blame is all too easily placed on the shoulders of the shopkeeper, rather than with the Post Office - who have essentially, through the Postal Services Bill, been enabled to walk away from their obligation to local communities.

Impossible choices

It was always part of Paul Hammond’s agreement in taking over ‘The Stores’ that the post office would have to move into the shop itself. It is our understanding that both Sandy and Paul (and Andy before them) have been strenuously trying to negotiate, through the various parts of the Post Office involved, a way to enable the post office to move into the shop. But in the event there was only a Hobson’s choice on offer from Post Office Ltd.

Our understanding is that, for the sub post office as it is today to be moved into the shop, Post Office Ltd would demand an investment by The Stores so hefty that it would threaten the business’s tenuous viability. And even if that were possible, the technical and security requirements demanded in the relocation of the facilities would be immense.

On the other hand, if shop were to adopt a ‘post office local’ model, Post Office Ltd would demand that it was open all the same hours as the shop. And with only a small subsidy offered for staffing costs, the ‘post office local’ would in essence be operating at a substantial loss from day one.

So now, in the absence of an agreement on either of the two models for moving the operation into the shop, Post Office Ltd has announced that the post office as it is will close at the end of August. And the only future solution being considered by the Post Office appears to be this highly compromised offer of an ‘Outreach service’, open only for a couple of sessions each week, and operated by visiting locum staff.

Use it or lose it.

Even in this suggested new diminished form, our local post office service will not be secure. If it is not used fully, the service may be reduced further until it disappears altogether. So if we value having local post office services we should do all we can to use them whenever we can, even if things are not quite the same without Sandy.

Some good news

It’s not all bad news though. Fortunately for the village, Sandy will be able to continue working in The Stores, but now as one of those behind the shop counter itself. We are very pleased to learn this and hope she is able to continue in that role for many years to come.

What next

Many people have already contacted us, keen to offer their support for any campaign or action that could save the post office. The Parish Council has said it would be happy to call a public meeting to enable residents to understand what’s going on and offer any ideas they might have for a better solution. Parish Chairman Bryan Whitton has told us he’s happy for people to call him about this on 01435 830 541. The moment we have a confirmed date for a village meeting we will publish it here.

If you have views about things we as a community could do to sustain the shop and its services, including the post office, please get in touch and we will endeavour to share them on these pages.

The news about the village post office is depressing but it doesn't have to be the end of the story. What we’ve got in Rushlake Green is very special.  Let’s continue the fight to preserve and improve the things we value most.

If you want to contact Post Office Ltd direct, the details are as follows:
Caroline Hoare, Field Change Advisor, National Consultation Team
Post Office Limited, PO Box 1138, St Albans, AL1 9UN
08457 223344 / This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Editor's note: We have chosen to clear the front page for this issue. Normal service, including news on future and past events, will be restored shortly.