Friday, 14 November 2008

Organ-grinder revealed

The news that the Post Office will be allowed to retain the Post Office Card Account (POCA) is, of course, good news for what is left of the post office network in our rural areas. The government have, on this occasion, made the right decision.

That does not mean, of course, that there are no questions to be answered. I haven't a clue how much it has cost to allow the tendering process to go as far as it did before changing policy. But there has certainly been a cost to that process - and not just a financial cost. I know that many sub-postmasters have been extremely worried for their futures, and have been through a fairly stressful period – completely unnecessarily, as it now transpires.

And I do wonder whether, if this knowledge had been available before the recent round of closures, some of the outcomes might have been different. Some of the postmasters who decided not to fight the closure programme, for instance, would have done so on the basis of a calculation as to what was the risk that they might have been affected by any withdrawal of the POCA – and will have been asking themselves whether the terms of retirement might then be less favourable.

So, although the government decision is the right one, the timing has probably made the closure programme a little easier for the government than it might have been had the certainty of the POCA been assured earlier.

The decision was announced by the government. Quite rightly so, since it is the government which took the decision. But am I the only one to notice that when a popular decision is made about the post office, the government announce it and take the credit; but when it's an unpopular decision, the Post Office is left to take the brunt of the public's wrath?

There were times during the recent campaigns to keep post offices open where I actually felt quite sorry for the post office managers. They were left to defend and explain a decision taken by others. Not only did the government not give them very much support, but Labour MPs up and down the country actually joined in the criticism of the post office – attacking them, in essence, for a decision which their own government had made. It was cynical and dishonest – and taking the credit this time round serves only to make it look even more cynical and dishonest.

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