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
CLOSURE OF SUB-POST OFFICES
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
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
Letter from Jackie Lawrence MP, to Mr
Dave Hazell, Retail Network Officer, Post Office Network
HOUGHTON POST OFFICE
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.
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 £500approximately
£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.