As Harrogate residents fight to stop their Crown Post Office from moving to a desk in WHSmiths, the story of how another Yorkshire town lost its own battle to stop a similar move will offer little in the way of encouragement.
Since October, 40 Post Office branches across the UK have been facing the same fate - to be kicked out of their current buildings and moved to a concession in their local WHSmiths store.
Over the last few weeks Harrogate’s MP, the council, businesses, community leaders and this newspaper have been working together to do all they can to oppose the plans, which affects the town’s main Post Office, on Cambridge Road.
Unfortunately, in other parts of the region, the battle has already been lost.
From May 2016, Calderdale councillors and Halifax MP, Holly Lynch, led a long-standing fight with Post Office bosses after it was announced that the town’s Crown Post Office would move from its historic home on Commercial Street and be replaced by a desk in WHSmiths.
The plans were supposed to be subject to a six week consultation, which closed just after five weeks in June 2016.
By September that year, the Post Office had moved 250 metres down the road to the back of WHSmiths.
Leader of Calderdale Council, Tim Swift (Lab) said that people in Halifax are still disappointed by the move.
He said: “I think people still feel pretty let down by the decision. The whole consultation process was pretty farcical and it was pretty clear from day one this was the decision being taken.
“There was very little way of getting the Post Office to slow down or rethink.”
After the departure of the Post Office, Coun Swift explained that the building stood empty for a considerable amount of time, only to be later filled by a less-than-ideal occupier.
He said: “It stood empty for the best part of 18 months and it’s now a Cash Converters, which is not ideal, because it’s a wonderful Victorian building.
“Now the Post Office is in the back of WHSmiths, it’s much less convenient and people are just not using it.
“More and more people are going online and quite a lot of it is dependent on self-service machinery. It just feels like a downgrade of the service.”
Not only are the people of Halifax less inclined to use the postal services, but the town has lost an element of it’s heritage, explained Coun Swift.
He continued: “The building was purpose-built as a Post Office in Victorian times and it’s on a street where there is a Victorian bank building too - it’s that kind of notable civic architecture.
“That was a pretty upsetting part of the whole thing too.
“We were up against it from day one.
“What I would probably argue as part of any campaign now is that it’s kind of incompatible with the government’s policy in terms of town centres.
“Downgrading Post Offices seems very counter productive to the high street.”
In Harrogate, WHSmiths have already confirmed that the concession would sit on the first floor of the shop in the Victoria Centre.
Not only has poorer access and the loss of services been a huge concern for Post Office customers in the Harrogate district as a result of these proposals, but there is also an impact on the Post Office staff.
Communication Workers Union (CWU) is acting as the voice for all employees affected. It has highlighted that the 40 branches which are currently consulting over the plans follows another 34 which are already in the process of making the same move.
These 74 Post Offices affected will subsequently impact some 700 jobs.
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The union’s National Officer, Andy Furey, pointed out that this “equates to almost one-third of the whole network.”
He said: “Franchising is privatisation by the back door.
“This union has always staunchly opposed franchising and it’s no surprise that there has been no negotiation, or even any formal engagement with the union over this matter at all.
“This is going to leave the remaining Crown offices extremely vulnerable and this union will mount the most vigorous industrial and political campaign against this catastrophic action.
“At a time when the government claims to be on the side of workers it is an outrage that it lets well rewarded jobs go from a public service and hands them straight to an employer like
WHSmiths who will not only seek to downgrade the terms and conditions of our members but also the service they provide.
“This is a massive slap in the face for our members who will be devastated - they have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to return the Crown Network to profitability.”
Consultation closes on December 19, share your views on email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.postofficeviews.co.uk
Harrogate Borough Council joins Post Office fight
Harrogate Borough Council has become the latest driving force to join the fight against plans to relocate the town’s main Post Office into WHSmiths.
Leader of HBC, Councillor Richard Cooper has echoed comments made by Harrogate and Knaresborough’s MP, Andrew Jones, claiming that the consultation does not go far enough.
He said: “I’ve looked at the consultation and I don’t think it constitutes a full and proper consultation.
“It doesn’t say do you want this move to happen and in the absence of that question it can’t be a proper and full consultation.”
Coun Cooper added that if the Post Office was to relocate the branch on Cambridge Road next year, it would be a ‘kick in the teeth for Harrogate residents’.
The council is now in the process of inviting its partners, such as business leaders, community groups and other organisations to share their opposition to the plans, to help build the strongest case against the Post Office before the branch is moved.
Post Office bosses defend WHSmiths plan
Post Office bosses have defended contentious plans to relocate Harrogate’s main branch, claiming that a move to WHSmiths would mean extended opening hours and that services ‘will remain the same’.
A spokesperson for the Post Office said: “Under the proposals, the services at the new branch would remain the same, with the exception of a cash machine.
“Services will include everyday banking for the UK’s high street banks, online shopping returns and collections and foreign exchange.
“The Post Office would be in a dedicated area with six serving positions. There will be three self-service kiosks.”
The new branch will also open on Sundays from 10.30am - 2.30pm, but will have the same opening hours as the current branch (9.30am - 5.30pm) Monday to Saturday.
Harrogate’s MP, Andrew Jones said he has received confirmation from the Post Office that all 10 staff members transfer in the move but passport services will not.