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Cumbernauld turns out to support Post Office at public meeting

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 19:42 GMT on Thursday, May 16th, 2013.

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Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

CONCERNED Cumbernauld residents turned out to a public meeting, last Friday, which looked into Post Office proposals which could see Cumbernauld’s Crown Post Office franchised. 

The meeting was held at Cumbernauld’s Muirfield Community Education Centre, last Friday, and was chaired by Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Labour MP, Gregg McClymont.

As part of the meeting, local residents had their chance to quiz  Post Office representatives Connie Hewitt and Sally Buchannan; Andy Furey of the Postal Workers Union and Shadow Post Office Minister, Ian Murray MP.

The result from the meeting appears to show that Cumbernauld doesn’t want its Post Office to go, with one audience member summing up the meeting’s opinion, towards the end. 

“If you close Cumbernauld’s Post Office, you will be leaving this town with a first class Post Office staff, and a second class service.”

Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

Following the meeting, local Labour MP, Gregg McClymont said: “I want to thank all who attended and voiced their concerns about the proposed closure of Cumbernauld's Town Centre Crown Post Office.

“The plan to relocate the Post Office inside a shop in a franchise deal got a thumbs down from the meeting.

"The strong feeling of the meeting was that Cumbernauld's Crown Post Office must be protected.

"I will continue to press Government and Post Office to secure the future of our Crown Post Office."

The meeting started with local Labour MP Gregg thanking everyone for their attendance, before the Post Office representatives, Connie Hewitt and Sally Buchannan set out the Post Office’s position – which Andy Furey of the Postal Workers Union then attacked.

Andy Furey. Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

Andy said: “The Post Office have put a for sale sign on Cumbernauld’s Post Office; it screams, ‘Come and take over this Post Office and we’ll [Post Office] give you £55,000 a year, a figure which is a ridiculous amount, and will see wages dumbed down and a race to the bottom.

“Private businesses do not care about public service – they run for profit. Privatisation is ludicrous and will see both staff and customers lose out; the public don’t want a dumbed service, which is what we’ll get if this goes through.”

The next person to speak was Shadow Post Office Minister, Ian Murray MP. Mr Murray told the assembled crowd that it was the second time he was in the area to talk at a public Post Office meeting.

Shadow Post Office Minister, Ian Murray MP. Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

He said: “This is the second time I have been in this constituency to talk at a Post Office meeting. However, that was a battle we won and showed the power of the public.

“We are all ultimately here, this evening, because the Government have passed the Postal Services Act, which separated the Post Office from Royal Mail; privatising Royal Mail along with it. However, I really do feel sorry for Connie and Sally, over this, as the Government has dealt the Post Office a bad hand.

“The Government have been closing Post Offices by stealth, which is a concern for a number of reasons, across the country – not least in Cumbernauld.

“What’s clear is that it’s not all about money. Post Offices provide a social aspect, and the spin offs from these social aspects are numerous and fruitful for the surrounding communities, benefitting the local economy and small businesses. 

“A Consumer Focus report called ‘Are you being served?’ clearly showed that dreadful service and longer queues are just a few of the negative consequences relating to privatisation. 

“This is nothing short of a fire sale to sell off public services, leading to a very uncertain time for postal services.”

Towards the end of his speech, Mr Murray said: “I encourage you all to support the Communication Workers Union and the staff affected. Let’s take the fight to the Government, not just for Cumbernauld, but for the wider society.”

Following each of the speakers having a number of minutes to put across their arguments, the floor was opened for the public to ask questions, by chair Gregg McClymont MP.

John Miller, a local union activist and representative of the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Trades Council was the first to make his opinion known. 
Addressing the panel, to rapturous applause, Mr Miller said: “This proposal is all to do with the level of profit in the Post Office’s margins. This situation is what is wrong with society today; people at the top have only self-interest – money to be made from privatisation. Put simply, the idea that public services are for public good is being ignored.” 

Post Office representative, Sally responded to Mr Miller’s point, by quoting disputed operating costs of the Cumbernauld Post Office. 

Connie and Sally. Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

Sally said: “Based on statistics, from September 2011 to September 2012, the operating costs of the Cumbernauld Crown Post Office is £177,000 – meaning that for each £1 of income, £2.63 is required to generate this £1 of income.

“If there was a risk to service then we would undertake an audit, and there are a number of reasons why the network is under risk and the team try very hard to temporarily uphold services.

“We are very experienced when Post Offices fail or services are at risk. We have a strong team who can successfully run good temporary services.

“Whether it’s one position or seven, we’ll move heaven and earth to keep the service going.” 

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Next, the discussion moved on to where a newly franchised Post Office would be located, after an audience member appeared to suggest that Cumbernauld Town Centre Post Office was on a forty year lease.

Responding to the point, Sally said: “When we enter a negotiation with the property’s landlord, we may find a breakaway clause, every three to four years, which will allow us to end the contract. However, we will look at each property in turn.

“Nonetheless, we have begun to advertise the Cumbernauld Crown Post Office; looking for a retailer who wishes to work in partnership.

“When we receive a request we will look seriously at the feasibility of any such retail partner, although there is no sense in moving it out of the Town Centre – that much is essential.

“However, if we don’t find a partner, in the end then the Post Office will stay where it is, as it is.”

After this discussion, chair Gregg McClymont MP allowed Andy Furey of the Postal Workers Union to re-enter the discussion. 

Andy compared the statistics previously promoted by Post Office representative, Sally. Andy claimed that the statistics he had received from the Post Office’s Chief Treasurer showed higher property costs than Sally quoted; claiming that this showed the case for franchisation to be “bizarre”. 

He said: “If the property costs are actually just under £180,000, Sally, and my figures are over £200,000 then where is the financial case for closure or franchisation? This is just completely bizarre, and has been turned upside down. 

“Furthermore, the figures I have show that it costs £1.18 to earn £1.” 

Mr Furey continued on to label the public meeting as “fantastic”, before praising local Member of Parliament, Gregg McClymont for organising the meeting, as well as labelling the Post Office’s consultation into the proposed franchising as “a complete sham”. 

Andy continued: “Let’s not have the wool pulled over our eyes. If the Post Office has begun to advertise for a partner than what’s the point in the consultation? Furthermore, will the Post Office listen to people and not close their local Post Office –it’s clearly what people want.

“Let’s think realistically, if this all ends up going through and becomes a reality then the new partner won’t care about public service; they will want your trade and that will mean that the Post Office will be shoved to the back of the store, behind the baked beans, toilet roll and whatever else. 

“At the end of the day, the Post Office is misleading the public with the figures which they are using – Crown offices are simply better than franchises.”

Stepping in, to rebut some of Mr Furey’s comments, Connie Hewitt of the Post Office said: “Figures are being bandied about by everyone. However, figures are not the only thing which we have looked at, and neither is property. 

“Figures and property are only two of the things we look at. We also look into footfall, other feasible cost savings and we have to anticipate the future. 

“In the end, I can appreciate that for these seventy branches, this entire decision is difficult. However, this is a commercial decision, by the Post Office’s board.”

The final comments from the panel were then taken, and chair Gregg McClymont MP was closing the meeting when one audience member said: “Cumbernauld needs a Post Office; the good people of Cumbernauld clearly have respect for the first class staff at the Town Centre Post Office. In the end, however, we are paying the price for the mistakes of the Post Office’s London office. You [Post Office] need to get your act together.” 

A second meeting may well soon be scheduled, and the Post Office has said that they would be “more than willing” to come back and talk to the community. 

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