Post Office Ltd Respond to Community Council Objections

ckcastleChris Kane is the Chair of both Braehead & Broomridge Community Development Trust and Braehead Community Council.  In 2017, he’ll be publishing a regular series of blogs on what both organisations are doing within our community.  

After I submitted our letter of objection to Post Office Ltd over their plans to move Braehead’s Post Office from Springfield Road to Wishart Drive, I received a reply which is copied below.  It is definitely a comprehensive reply, so I’m highlighted what I think are the key points in red text.  The consultation process is now finished and a decision will be made in the coming weeks, but all the indications are that our Post Office will be moving soon.

Dear Mr Kane,

Thank you for your email of 31 January 2017 and attached letter addressed to Ms Paula Vennells, Chief Executive, Post Office Ltd on behalf of Braehead Community Council regarding our proposal to relocate Springfield Road Post Office and to introduce one of our new look local style branches.  As a member of the Correspondence Team, I have been asked to reply to you on her behalf.  The views within your community are important to us and we welcome all your feedback.

By way of background I hope it will be helpful to explain that like all high street operators, faced with a challenging commercial environment, Post Office has had to develop a more flexible approach on how we maintain a service to our customers.  We are reducing our reliability on Government subsidy and to do so, we need to be sure our network is self-sufficient. Our plans for Springfield Road Post Office form part of a major programme of modernisation taking place across the Post Office network, the largest in the history of Post Office Ltd, and we believe that our proposals to relocate this branch will help to safeguard the future of a Post Office presence in your local area.

As part of the Network Transformation Programme we are looking at the most sustainable way of maintaining a service in the area.  We believe the best way forward is to integrate Post Office services into a strong retail business, which can offer Post Office services over the same opening hours as the retail operation, and with Post Office and retail businesses complementing each other, helping to create a successful and sustainable business for the future.

Springfield Road Post Office is operated on our behalf on an agency basis alongside our agent’s private business, and our agent is responsible for providing the premises from which the branch is operated.  With the postmaster leaving the network under the Network Transformation programme, we have been seeking new premises locally from which to continue providing a modern and professional service. 

Through our national website we have advertised the vacancy and consider any formal application made from an interested party.  We take into account a number of local factors, including the suitability of the operator and premises, accessibility and security and have a robust application and appointment process to help us make sure that we appoint the right person.

The applicant, Broomridge Mini Market, was successful in the initial stages of our recruitment process and is now the subject of this local public consultation which provides us with an opportunity to get the views of our customers and their representatives on the proposed new location before making a decision on the best way forward.

I would like to clarify that whenever we look to make a change in our network we follow a Code of Practice, agreed with the independent statutory consumer watchdog for the Post Office network which sets outs how we will communicate and consult on these changes. In Great Britain this is Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. In Northern Ireland this is the Consumer Council.  Where branch relocation is planned, there is a robust local consultation process to make sure that customers and local representatives are informed of our plans and to seek their comments on those proposals.  In line with this, at the start of the consultation process we wrote to local representatives including the MP for Stirling, the MSP for Stirling, 7 MSPs for Mid Scotland and Fife, the Chief Executive of Stirling Council, 3 Councillors for Stirling East, Kings Park Community Council, the Scottish Chamber of Commerce, Stirling District Citizens Advice Bureau and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Sustainable Growth at the Scottish Government.  Customer information posters were displayed in branch and customer leaflets were available for people to take away with them. Information was also published on our website www.postofficeviews.co.uk.  All these channels provided details of how to contact us, together with a timescale for us to receive any comments by.

Our research for the Springfield Road Post Office consultation showed Kings Park Community Council as the appropriate Community Council for this constituency.  I apologise that we did not write to Braehead Community Council, but confirm we have now added your contact details to our mailing list of local representatives for future notifications regarding our proposals for this branch.

The purpose of consultation is to let customers and local representatives know about the planned changes and to ask specific questions on which we would like feedback. Consultation is not a public vote on the principle of the change, which is a commercial decision for Post Office Ltd to take, and is not dependent on how many positive or negative responses are received. However the views of our customers are very important to us as this helps us to get the best information available locally not only on the questions asked but also on any other issues that might be relevant to the proposed change.  All relevant feedback we receive is considered alongside the original proposal and helps to shape and inform our final decision. At the end of the consultation period, we review the proposal, taking into account the feedback received.  As part of the consultation process Post Office Ltd also meets with Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland and Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, to share and review all consultation responses and to ensure all relevant feedback is taken into account in finalising our plans.

All of your concerns, including parking, disabled access and being at the heart of the community, have been noted and will be given full consideration as part of the consultation process.  It’s important that we get as much local information as possible about accessibility and the location of the proposed new premises as this helps us to understand better the impact relocation might have on our customers, so that we can take this into account along with all other relevant factors when making our final decision.

Although the proposed new site currently has steps at the entrance, if the move goes ahead a permanent ramp with handrail would be installed and consideration is being given to the installation of an automatic door.

With regards to disabled parking spaces, the proposed new operator will be asking the local authority if they would mark out a disabled bay at the front of his premises if the relocation happens.  The provision of disability parking falls into their remit and the final decision would be out of his hands, however he would do all that he could in this respect.

The local model, as proposed here, is more straightforward to operate and requires less space than the traditional model.  It makes full use of automation through a till point in the retail area, meaning that customers can be served quickly and efficiently and transactions processed more quickly.  The longer opening hours from early morning to late at night from Monday – Sunday may also help to alleviate queues as customers can spread footfall and choose to visit at a quieter time.  The local model allows the operator to utilise his staff more efficiently as they are able to manage both shop and Post Office transactions and all staff members would be trained on the Post Office system.  We are very conscious of the impact queuing can have on customer satisfaction and would work with the operator to ensure staffing levels are appropriate to offer the excellent and professional service we aim to provide in all our branches.

We do understand the Post Office has a unique and valued place at the heart of communities like Braehead, particularly for the elderly and less mobile.  However whilst we’re seen as a vital public service, we also face a challenging commercial environment and we’ve had to develop a more flexible approach on how we maintain a service to our customers.  We believe that our proposal to relocate this branch will help to safeguard the future of a Post Office presence in your local area.

The local public consultation for Springfield Road Post Office ends on 15 February and all views expressed during the consultation period will be fully considered before a decision is made.  Once a final decision is taken on this proposal we will let you and other local representatives know.  Customer information posters will be displayed in the current branch at that time and details will also be published on our website www.postofficeviews.co.uk

Thank you for taking part in our local public consultation for Springfield Road Post Office.

Yours sincerely

Programme Correspondence Team