Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 20 MARCH 2001
80. It seems to me that you are not in touch
with rural Wales at all and some of the cases that we want to
discuss with you. Whatever you say about the Code of Practice
and what is happening now, clearly that has not happened in the
past. It makes us as politicians very angry.
(Mr Sweetman) I can see that. I accept that.
81. Would you like to tell me what you know
about this case?
(Mr Sweetman) Yes. The post office did close in July
82. Can I stop you there and ask: for how long
did you know that Mrs Sumbland wanted to retire, bearing in mind
that she is a 72 year old lady? She is not retiring through ill
(Mr Sweetman) It would have been for at least three
months but I do not know the answer to that question. We did receive
inquiries from a couple of people who expressed an early interest
in the vacancy but no firm applications came in. They expressed
an interest but we did not receive a formal application. We did
produce a vacancy pack, which was made available to people who
expressed an interest. That really is just to make sure that people
who do apply know all about the facts and figures so that they
can make their own decision.
83. Can I stop you there? You said that a couple
of people expressed an interest. Those are inquiries, in other
(Mr Sweetman) Yes.
84. If they do not come back to you, do you
follow up with a second telephone call or a second letter or any
contact? If you are desperate to keep that service open, in Penrhynside
in this case, why do you not as an organisation go back to those
people who have made inquiries, rather than expecting them to
come to you, and make it attractive for them?
(Mr Sweetman) I think that often happens.
85. Not in this case.
(Mr Sweetman) Not in this case.
86. Why not?
(Mr Sweetman) I cannot answer that. I think that should
have been done. I will not put forward excuses because I think
you might well be right.
87. I interrupted you, and I apologise. Would
you like to continue?
(Mr Sweetman) Yes. Not making the retail offer available
I think in these particular circumstances did complicate the case
and made it more difficult to find a new sub-postmaster to come
88. Why, because she says that she was making
(Mr Sweetman) Yes, but I think that without the gross
profit income from a retail offer, a stand-alone post office would
not be a viable business for an individual to run. That is why
the ideal situation is to run a retail outlet alongside a sub-post
office in the hands of one individual. I think splitting the two
does not make it an easy proposition to sell.
89. Do you not think the person making the inquiry
or making himself or herself available would be the best person
to decide that?
(Mr Sweetman) That might have been the reason why,
although I do not know this, they did not turn their expression
of interest into an application.
90. But it was not followed up?
(Mr Sweetman) I do not know that it was not followed
up. It would be a reasonable procedure for it to have been followed
up, I agree. Our local manager did discuss the vacancy with the
two people concerned but I am not sure how many times or how much
they pushed. I believe that they did not push their early interest.
Mrs Sumbland did actually extend her last day of service by seven
weeks, for which we were very grateful. During that period no
other interest was expressed. We kept Mrs Groom locally informed
of the position as the local councillor, as she had quite a close
interest because her family used the outlet. That is where we
stand. We have not so far had any suitable candidate coming forward.
91. The last time we asked you questions about
this back in July we asked about the alternatives that you had.
We discussed whether you had a list of people who could step in
to run the service in the community so that they would not be
deprived of this service. You told us that. I also asked at that
time whether you had a roving programme. In your memorandum you
say to us that an option of the provision of a roving service
by a nearby sub-postmaster is currently being exploredcurrently
being 12 March, the date of your letter I assume?
(Mr Sweetman) Yes. I am informed that is the position
92. In July you answered questions previously.
(Mr Sweetman) In these particular circumstances, because
we hoped we would get applications coming forwardand Mike
Granville took you through this a little earlier that is
now one of the things we look for if all our normal procedures
have not been successful. We are now looking to see whether there
is a sub-postmaster locally in a nearby community who could provide
this service, albeit not on a full-time basis, in restricted hours,
someone who would go there at particular fixed points in a week
to provide the service.
93. This has taken from July to March?
(Mr Sweetman) I accept your point; it could perhaps
have been looked at earlier.
94. Do you agree that my area has not been well
served by your organisation in this instance?
(Mr Sweetman) I think, from the facts that we have
shared, you are probably right.
95. I would ask you to try and put that right.
(Mr Sweetman) We will look into that and see if we
can come up with a solution. I will write to you about it.
96. Mr Sweetman, can I give you an example of
what I have found to be the closure procedure, or rather actions
by Post Office Counters, when a closure is imminent? I may well
be resonating with others here. The first thing that happens is
that a small A4 advert is placed in the nearest available post
office for about five or seven days saying that the post office
down the road is closing down. Then, normally at the eleventh
hour, if not indeed the twelfth, I as a Member of Parliament receive
a letter from Post Office Counters in Bangor, albeit bilingually,
asking if I know of anybody who would like to take over. That
is a total waste of space and probably waste of a stamp because
I do not actually have a briefcase full of names of people ready
to move in. Do you not think that kind of procedure is a bit Gilbert
(Mr Sweetman) My response is that we look initially
in the local community at whether there are any other retail outlets
that would be suitable and at where there are people who might
be interested in taking up a sub-postmastership. Where there are
no obvious economic alternatives, then we approach the representatives
of that community. These would be the parish council and yourselves,
because that is the agreed procedure that we have with Postwatch.
We said we would do that because many of you and your colleagues
and people on parish councils do have a network of contacts who
might well be useful in flushing out somebody who would be willing
to take on the sub-postmaster role. We do the commercial side
of things. We have a mailing list to potential sub-postmasters
who have expressed an interest. We contact the agents, as we referred
to earlier. We do the economic things and the community things
and we do those together. I honestly thought that you and your
colleagues had at various times expressed an interest in helping
and that you might well have contacts.
97. That is the procedure. Given that on 15
February the Government announced a new Code of Practice, how
will the practice change and what improvements will be made?
(Mr Sweetman) The Code of Practice is this document,
which is something that we have agreed with now Postwatch, as
of today, and we will continue to review that. We have got this
version, which has been agreed after many months of consultation
right around the country. We have agreed that we would examine
it after a few months to see if the Code of Practice is working
and, if it is not working, how we can change it.
98. How different is that document from what
you have just described and which I describe as being rather ineffective?
(Mr Sweetman) It is in a lot of detail. I think it
is good practice for organisations which provide services in communities
up and down the country.
99. How different is it from the normal practice
you referred to earlier?
(Mr Sweetman) I think it is much more comprehensive
than our practices in the past because we have brought all the
best practice together. This is now our internal standard and
we will be measured by it from its publication. I think it is
a more comprehensive Code of Practice than we have had in the
past. It is a more demanding one for our local managers. Therefore,
it is something that I would want to be measured against. It is
certainly something that PostCom will be reporting annually against
and in our regular meetings with Postwatch they have said that
they are very interested in ensuring that it is up to the best