‘Total service failure’ at former Crown Post Office sparks appeal to Health Secretary Hancock

Postal, Post Office (PO)

Image credit: Steve Barton – Haverhill Echo

Tuesday 8th September 2020

Local councillors in a Suffolk town are to discuss sending an urgent letter to Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, urging his assistance, following a “total and unacceptable service failure” by the private retailer who was given a former Crown Post Office earlier this year.

Until a few months ago, Haverhill had the last remaining Crown in the whole of Suffolk, but senior Post Office chiefs decided to hand it over – as they had already done with the county’s Thetford, Diss and Newmarket Crowns – to retailer ZCO.

“We protested against the move, just like so many people up and down the UK had protested against all the other privatisations, but here, like virtually everywhere else, we the people were ignored,” CWU rep Tim Pavelin tells CWU News.

As has also been the case almost everywhere else, every one of the eight members of staff at Haverhill Crown chose a redundancy package rather than the ‘TUPE’ option and subsequent uncertain career prospects of the new employer.

“But where there were eight people staffing the Post Office, this new company seems to have only employed three – and at significantly lower pay, terms and conditions,” explains Tim, who serves as Post Office section secretary for the union’s Eastern No.4 Branch.

“So not surprisingly, faced with poor pay, terrible employment conditions and a ridiculously unreasonable workload, people haven’t stayed long and last week two workers apparently left because the conditions were so bad.

“The post office was abruptly ‘closed until further notice’ in the middle of last week, with a notice on the front citing staffing issues as the reason.”

Writing in the Haverhill Echo, local reporter Steve Barton noted that the sudden service failure had left the whole town – population 27,000 – “with just one sub post office with a single counter”.

The ZCO-run former Crown remained closed and completely out of service until Monday morning, reports Dave Smith, CWU Eastern No.4 Branch Post Office section chair.

“I don’t know whether the company has recruited new staff or transferred people from other branches it runs – but the fact remains that we have had a three or four-day complete service failure here, and it’s totally unacceptable.”

As well as his CWU responsibilities, Dave is also a local ward councillor on both Haverhill Town and West Suffolk District authorities and he plans to raise this issue with his fellow elected representatives and ask them to back his proposal for an urgent, collectively-drafted letter to both the MP for the town and senior Post Office management.

“Our MP happens to be the Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock and, of course we all appreciate he’s extremely busy with health issues at this time, but he does also have his Constituency responsibilities and, at the very least, he needs to make sure the Government department responsible for the Post Office takes immediate action here.”

CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey tells CWU News that he “absolutely endorses the prompt actions of Tim and Dave and adds that he will be writing to Nick Read, Post Office CEO. 

“I would also imagine our general secretary Dave Ward will take the opportunity to highlight this service failure to Paul Scully, the Government Minister with responsibility for the Post Office, when he meets him in the coming weeks,” says Andy.

“There appears to have been a total service failure for three or four whole days and as both Tim and Dave have made clear, this is extremely serious and completely unacceptable.

“If a franchise partner cannot or will not employ sufficient members of staff to carry out Post Office business adequately then that company is clearly not fit to run a Crown office.

“The Post Office senior management cannot be allowed to abdicate their responsibility here and must cease these ‘franchises’ to unreliable partner companies.

“The only solution here is to bring Haverhill Post Office fully back ‘in-house’ as a directly managed, operated and staffed Crown.”