The future of the Post Office

CWU is campaigning for a successful post office network which brings a range of quality services to communities across the UK. We represent members in Crown Post Offices as well as postmasters, workers in support functions and across Royal Mail Group who come into contact with the post office network daily.

The Post Office faces an uncertain future. In 2012, following the Postal Services Act, it was separated from Royal Mail – the only major state postal operator to divorce its retail arm from its mails operation. A 10 year inter-business contract was brought in after CWU lobbying to ensure that Royal Mail continues to use the post office network, securing key business for the next decade.

Major changes bring further uncertainty. The management is trying to bring in controversial operating models which could undermine the revenue of postmasters; major government contracts remain uncertain; and there are plans to mutualise the whole operation. There were 11,818 open post offices in March 2012, comprising Crown, sub, franchise and outreach branches.

In 2011 the Post Office started trialling two new operating models – ‘Locals’ and ‘Mains’ – as part of its Network Transformation (NT) programme. The Locals model in particular has been heavily criticised for reducing services and eroding reasonable revenues for postmasters, potentially threatening thousands of closures and fundamentally changing post offices forever.

Postal Watchdog Consumer Focus found in their report, Local but limited?, that on top of having a narrower range of products – with DVLA, passport, on-demand foreign currency and Post Office financial services being excluded from the Locals offer entirely – a number of branches were refusing to take parcels and limiting cash withdrawals for pensions and benefits.

In July 2012 the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee published findings criticising the Locals model in their report Post Office Network Transformation.

Find out more about Post Office Locals and the concerns raised about them.

The Locals model is just one element of the Post Office’s broader Network Transformation (NT) programme. The big town centre branches, known as Crown offices, are experiencing changes too. The Post Office recently announced plans to franchise 70 of its 370 Crown Offices, a 20% cut to the network, which will see 770 jobs affected. The CWU is working hard to stop these franchising plans which will not only downgrade the service but have far reaching effects on local communities and their economies. For more information and what you can do to get involved check out our dedicated section of the website on Post Office Pay and the Future of the Crown Network.

While it cannot be privatised, the coalition government is proposing to mutualise the Post Office. It is not yet clear what this will mean in practice but CWU is concerned about the retention and delivery of quality services and the effect breaking the link with government could have on the future sustainability of the network.

BIS is proposing to establish a Stakeholder Forum, which is expected to determine the finer details of mutualisation, including the public purpose, membership and governance arrangements of a mutual Post Office. As a key stakeholder the CWU expects to play a role in this body.

Find out more about mutualisation and how CWU is involved in the debate.

The government is proud to declare there is no programme of Post Office closures under their watch but this does not mean that branches are not continuing to close. In fact the number of sub post offices fell by over 150 between March 2010 and March 2012.

The number of satellite and outreach services is also increasing – up from 416 in 2008 to over 1,000 today – which often masks the trend when figures for the total size of the network are being quoted. These are open fewer hours, with fewer services and in many cases comprise a mobile van visiting an area for a couple of afternoons a week. Outreach services are counted the same as a high street Crown office or postmaster-run sub office in the Post Office’s statistics, but clearly the reality of service provision is vastly different.

Postmasters have not been listened to – or even consulted – in many stages of the NT programme. CWU established a dedicated Postmasters Branch in 2011 to deal specifically with the issues facing this group of workers. This branch has already had a significant impact, presenting expert evidence at government Select Committees, featuring in the media and forging links with key stakeholders through the Post Bank Coalition, political lobbying and campaigning activities. To find out more or to join this growing branch visit Postmasters in CWU.

CWU is a founder member of the Post Bank Coalition, a group made up of the Federation of Small Businesses, Countryside Alliance, New Economics Foundation, Unite, and others. We have been campaigning for a state-owned bank to be established in the Post Office to cater for the needs of vulnerable consumers, businesses and rural communities. Access to trusted banking is at the core of the campaign.

Find out more about Post Bank