Sir George has expressed anger at plans to close 8 sub Post Offices in his North West Hants constituency. Of the 31 Post Offices in his constituency, over a quarter are to close.
“The Government announced proposals in the summer to close 2500 Post Offices in the UK. There are 650 parliamentary constituencies, so each MP could expect to lose 4 Post Offices. I am scheduled to lose 8; and, with a predominantly rural constituency and the stated priority of maintaining access, I would expect to be at or below the average.”
Sir George said he was relieved that the Post Office in Enham Alamein had escaped the cull, and paid tribute to the work of Leslie Barry there. “Leslie has invested in the shop, built up the business, and deserves to carry on providing a first class service.”
Sir George said that any closure was serious for the community concerned, but he was especially worried about St Mary Bourne, Ashford Hill, Goodworth Clatford and Anna Valley.
“In St Mary Bourne, they have recently raised funds for a new shop and Post Office. Without the Post Office run as it now is, the shop may become less viable. The Village has been offered an Outreach Solution, so they have made the case for a Post Office presence. I will be in touch with those who run the shop to see how I can best help. They want to do all they can to maintain the best service possible, and my view is that this is best done by retaining the Post Office as it is."
Sir George said he remained to be convinced about Outreach. “I am told that Outreach could be in a local Pub. That is exactly what we have at the moment in Ashford Hill, where there is a Post Office at the back of the Ship. But this is now scheduled for closure.”
“I am also worried at knocking out the Post Offices in the neighbouring villages of the Clatfords and Anna Valley, leaving local people unserved and having to looking to Andover and, again, undermining the viability of the local shop."
“The Government’s strategy seems to focus on how many branches they can get away with closing, instead of developing a strategy that maximises business opportunities and enables these sub Post Offices to flourish. In rural areas where the Post Office has closed, the last shop has closed as well. I don’t believe this Government understands the key role they play in rural life.”
“I know that sub-postmasters in North West Hants already provide a good service through their branches. They do not want to depend on subsidy, but instead want the opportunity to do more business and serve their customers - that is what this strategy should be offering them.
They need to be freed up to offer a broader range of services.
The strategy should include, first, giving sub-postmasters greater freedom to find new business opportunities, included working with carriers other than the Royal Mail - for example as a drop-off point for packages which cannot be delivered. (At present Royal Mail writes clauses into sub-postmasters’ contracts, forbidding them from taking on certain business opportunities which might, if they had the chance, transform their finances).
Second, the Government should be encouraging local councils to see what services they can provide through post offices and whether they could use the Post Office network in their area better to engage with local residents.
Third, the Government should do more to allow post offices to become hubs for Government information. The Government has talked about doing this in the past; but the delivery has been disappointing.”
Sir George held a meeting at his House of Commons Office last week with representatives of the Post Office today. "They explained that the consultation on closures was genuine, but made the point that any reprieves would probably have to be balanced by fresh closures, if the overall figure of 2500 was to be adhered to."
Sir George asked whether there was any flexibility on closures - for example to allow a postmaster to work until retirement, but was told this was not possible. It was agreed that the figures of distance to the neighbouring Post Offices from Goodworth Clatford were wrong and would be changed. (The Post Office had used the right figures for their decisions)
Sir George said he was disappointed with the proposals, and would be consulting with the communities concerned before deciding how best to respond.
Charles Hendry, the Front Bench Opposition Spokesman on the Post office said “George Young is quite right to highlight how much worse these closures are affecting NW Hampshire than other parts of the country, with twice the number of closures planned than we would have expected on average. The real sadness is that these closures need not be happening at all, if only the government would develop new business opportunities for the network.”
On the BBC Politics Show, Sir George said it was absurd that those trying to save Post Offices from closure could not be told how much was needed. "Pleading commercial confidentiality, the Post Office are refusing to disclose information vital to post offices' survival. This is absurd."