Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from Jackie Lawrence MP to the Chairman of the Committee

  I am very pleased indeed to note that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee is investigating the situation in relation to Post Offices in Wales.

  Like many other MPs I have been extremely concerned at the ongoing closure of many of our village Post Offices, particularly in light of the Government's commitment to utilise the service these sub-post offices give to tackle social exclusion.

  Following the recent announcement by Post Office Network that my own village Post Office is to close on 9 March, I had a lengthy meeting with the sub-post mistress Mrs Jennifer Hayden. Quite frankly, on the basis of what she told me it is hardly surprising that so many are closing and action needs to be taken urgently to get the Post Office to address this.

  You will see from the attached copy of my letter to Alan Johnson MP that I have outlined the particular difficulties that Mrs Hayden faced.

  You will also see that I have subsequently written to every sub-Post Office in my constituency enclosing a questionnaire to obtain more information on the issues that Mrs Hayden raised. These are now coming back to me and they all confirm the points that were outlined to Alan Johnson in my letter. I will endeavour to give you a resume of these findings before your committee's evidence taking session on 20 March.

  I hope the attached is helpful. Certainly our rural Post Offices are very much valued and I am sure we all wish to do everything possible to get a fair deal for our sub-Postmasters and sub-Postmistresses so that they feel it is worth their while continuing to provide this much needed service to our rural communities.

4 March 2001

Letter from Jackie Lawrence MP to Alan Johnson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, DTI


  I have attached a letter I have today written to the Retail Network Officer, Post Office Network in Bristol. You will see it relates to my discussions with the sub-postmistress in my own village of Houghton following notification to me by the Post Office that Mrs Hayden has "resigned" and will cease to provide a Post Office service to the community from 9 March.

  Quite frankly, following my conversation with Mrs Hayden, I am not surprised that so many small Post Offices are closing. In addition to the appalling low rate of pay of £4.05 paid to sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses for the responsibility of the duties involved, the Post Office appear to be taking no responsibility for overheads which are incurred entirely in order for a Post Office service to be offered by these small offices.

  I know that the Performance and Innovation Unit are currently looking at Post Offices in the light of the Government's plans to utilise the service they offer to combat social exclusion so I have copied this letter to the PIU. Certainly there seem to be major issues here that need to be tackled to prevent further closures and reverse the decline in this valuable and much-valued service.

Letter from Jackie Lawrence MP, to Mr Dave Hazell, Retail Network Officer, Post Office Network


  Thank you for your letter of 26 January notifying me that Mrs Jennifer Hayden wishes to resign and will not be in a position to provide a service after close of business on Friday 9 March 2001.

  I agree with you that this is a very valuable service for our village here in Houghton where I live and of course, wish to do everything possible to see this maintained. Jennifer has given almost 25 years of service in providing a Post Office service in three locations in Pembrokeshire and the last 14 of those years have been here in Houghton. She will be sadly missed.

  For that reason, I was more than a little perturbed having spoken to Jennifer this morning, to find that she really would prefer not to have to give up her role as sub-postmistress. She tells me she has reluctantly taken this step because the income she receives from providing a Monday to Friday service between 9.00 am and 1.00 pm each day only brings her a gross income of £81.00 per week (20 hours x £4.05 an hour). I note that this hourly rate takes no account of the extra time each week she spends balancing her till. Plus, the fact that overheads which she has to provide purely and simply to undertake work for the Post Office are not accepted for payment by the Post Office.

  For example:


  Mrs Hayden tells me that before the Horizon computer equipment was installed recently, she was advised that it would be necessary to undertake structural work to the interior of the room used as a Post Office as the space available was not sufficient. Mr and Mrs Hayden obtained a quote for the work to be done by a local builder. He quoted a sum of approximately £1,000 to extend the interior back wall to provide more space, install improved electrics to accommodate the computer system, and to expand and relocate both the counter and the screen.

  The Post Office advised that they would not contribute in any way towards this cost. Plus, they demanded that the work had to be done within 10 days or they would close the office. In the event Mr Hayden himself did the work during the 10 day period on afternoons and evenings so as not to disrupt the Post Office opening hours between 9.00 am and 1.00 pm.


  The new Horizon computer system has required the installation of six power points which must be used all the time. The Post Office make no contribution towards the running costs of the electricity for this. I also understand that the Post Office have never contributed to the costs of lighting or heating that is required in the Post Office area.


  Mrs Hayden tells me that she has been quoted a cost of £60 per year for property insurance on her home through SAGA. However, because she runs the Post Office she has first of all had difficulty in finding a company that will insure her premises. Secondly, because of the type of insurance required on the Post Office itself, companies insist that her entire premises are covered under the same terms. With the requirement for up to £10 million third party liability insurance plus property insurance this has resulted in an annual cost of £500—approximately £10 per week.


  Mrs Hayden tells me that the Post Office require two sets of alarm systems. The "panic button" type of system which the Post Office installed free of charge. In addition, the general alarm system for which the Post Office only paid half the cost with Mrs Hayden having to pay the remaining half, plus half of annual maintenance costs and any repairs necessary.


  Mrs Hayden tells me that she has not had a holiday of more than two days (Saturday and Sunday) since taking on responsibility for the village Post Office 14 years ago because she cannot afford the cost of training suitable staff. I understand that the Post Office will pay relief staff for the period of relief at a rate of £7.39 an hour. However, Mrs Hayden tells me that during the necessary training period of a replacement which she estimates to be at least three weeks, she must pay that person herself and she simply cannot afford to do so when her own income from the Post Office is only £81 per week.


  I understand from Mrs Hayden that the Post Office do provide line rental on her telephone plus 200 units (approximately £2) per quarter for calls. However, she informs me that this does not cover certain costs and liabilities since the introduction of the Horizon computer system. She tells me there are two "Helplines" that she can contact in the event of problems with the computer system. Because of the operating hours of the office if she needs to telephone either of these lines it is at peak times and on one occasion recently when she had to contact the "Helpline" she was on the telephone for one and a half hours. At peak times this is obviously a substantial additional cost which is not fully covered by the Post Office.

  In relation to her income from the Post Office over and above the hourly rate, Mrs Hayden gave me the attached (not printed) which demonstrates her monthly potential for extra earnings. She was at pains to point out that this £8.02 was around double her normal monthly additional payment. She also pointed out that those transactions which do hold the most potential for additional income are not available to small sub-Post Offices like hers. For example passport transactions; car tax transactions; sale of top-up cards for mobile phones. Plus the fact that larger Post Office outlets have a "lottery" that people paying bills are entered into with the potential of winning a prize. The obvious implication of that is to attract individuals who have their own transport to the larger offices while depriving smaller offices of potential income which could keep them open and viable for customers who do not have their own transport.

  It is a major source of concern to me that so many Post Offices are continuing to close in villages like mine. From speaking to my constituent in this village, I now see why this appears to be the case.

  I would be grateful if you could let me know what the Post Office itself is doing to address this. It would certainly seem that there is little chance of any decline in "resignations" unless the Post Office itself recognises the need not to place financial burdens on its sub-postmasters without reimbursement when these burdens are wholly incurred as a result of a commitment to providing a Post Office service.

  In view of the Government's declared intention of using Post Offices to combat social exclusion, I have copied this letter to both the Performance and Innovation Unit and also to Alan Johnson MP at the Department of Trade and Industry.

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