Thursday 28 August 2008

Post Office Disappointment

The Post Office has now confirmed its plans to close post offices at Talog, Trelech and Llanboidy, despite the efforts of local campaigners to save them. It's a huge disappointment, but I can't honestly say that it's a surprise. Given the guidelines and instructions given to the Post Office by the Government, it was always hard to see how they could both listen to local communities and obey the government's instructions.

In this case, given that they're in government, Labour must inevitably take the brunt of the responsibility; but the Tories don't come out of it at all well either, and not just because they closed thousands of post offices themselves when in government.

From the outset, Labour MPs were on something of a hiding to nothing. After all, there is no real debate about the fact that the programme has emanated from the government, rather than from the Post Office. The line taken by our local Labour MP was a very simple one. He claims that he didn't actually vote for the closure programme; what he voted for was the financial package which backs up the closure programme, and without which the closure programme couldn’t go ahead. Bit of a fine distinction to me.

And although he supported the government, and the government has told the post office to close 2,500 post offices, that didn't prevent him objecting to any and all of the closures if they were in his constituency, on the basis that the Post Office had chosen the 'wrong ones' to close. Presumably therefore, he'd be happy if they were all in someone else's constituency. And he repeatedly insisted that the Post Office was supporting 'too large a network' and had to become 'more efficient'. To me, and many other, it all sounded like support for the plans.

The Tory line suffered from a few problems as well. The Post Office has lost a lot of business because it's been put out to tender by the Government. So, claimed one Tory, it's the Post Office's fault for tendering too high. Well, er, no, not quite. The Government has told them to cut their losses, so how exactly does cutting their prices help them - especially when their competitors are able to offer 'loss leaders' in order to win business?

In case that isn't entirely clear, let me put it in these terms – the government is closing post offices because they're making a loss, because the government has taken business away from them and given it to private companies who are probably also making a loss on the same business.

Now it sounds at first as if the real crazies here are the companies who are taking on business at a loss; but there's method in their madness. The more business they take from the post office, the more the post office network shrinks; and the more the post office network shrinks, the more business there is for the private companies to win. And, when they've succeeded in closing the post office down more or less completely, they'll be able to raise their prices again, won't they?

Closing a first class network of outlets for government services in order to pass the work over to the private sector is a classic example of LabourTory short-sightedness.

Just as a PS - One of the lines peddled by our Conservative AM was that she knows from personal experience how damaging that it is to local communities when their post office is closed, since the office in her village has already been closed. One slight problem with this empathy – her post office was closed by the Conservative government. I'd be more convinced if I thought a future Tory Government would behave any differently.

No comments: