Union wins ‘vital breathing space’ in fight to save Crown Post Office network

Postal, Post Office (PO)
Andy Furey

Andy Furey

Moratorium agreed stopping any closures or franchises for the rest of 2021, with talks planned to agree a future long-term strategy…

“This is a crucial opportunity to fundamentally shift the direction of the Post Office,” is how CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey describes the six-month truce in the long-running battle to preserve our nation’s Crown Post Office service.

“Through a combination of public pressure, political lobbying and campaigning plus persuasion, we’ve managed to secure this moratorium until the end of 2021 – something I’m describing as a vital breathing space, which gives us a chance to try to agree a joint strategy for the future.”

Since 2012, the number of Crowns has fallen alarmingly from 373 to the current 114 with some being closed completely, but the vast majority being effectively privatised through franchise to retailers – in particular WH Smith.

“We’ve opposed, argued against and fought against this privatisation all the way, including bouts of strike action,” recalls Andy, “but although we’ve won some notable victories, it’s been an incredibly difficult uphill struggle for us industrially.

“What’s made a difference here, I believe, has been the relatively high public profile of the UK’s Post Office network and service, and the consequent public disquiet at what’s happened which, inevitably leads to political pressure as voters complain to their local politicians and MPs, MSPs and Assembly members.”

Political support for our Post Office network has often meant cross-party backing for our local campaigns and in Andy’s analysis, this higher national profile has also coincided with the public relations disaster that was the Post Office senior management’s handling of the Horizon scandal.

“I think to a certain extent, all of this, plus the changed societal environment – the collectively rediscovered values of community, locality and mutual support – that we’ve all witnessed during the pandemic period, have combined to provide a critically important opportunity for us to drive real and sustained change here.”

The second part of the CWU/Post Office joint statement commits both sides to serious top-level talks aimed at establishing a long-term strategy for the network and it is here where progress is going to be crucial.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward says that, as well as stepping up our efforts to persuade MPs – particularly those MPs on the influential Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Select Committee – to act in support of the network, the situation also provides “clear opportunities to work with local authorities including metro mayors and Councils, as well as with devolved governments, on bringing in new work and additional revenue.”

Innovative new products and services, geared towards the differing needs of all parts of the UK, “can make the Crown network more viable,” he explains, adding that “we will be working on this with our regional secretaries.

“It is though, still conceivable that Post Office will look to launch a fresh round of closures and/or franchising plans at the start of next year. So, there is a lot of work we will need to do over the next six months to try and persuade them to embrace an entirely new and progressive policy and strategy.”