Melanie Corfield from the Post Office Ltd Communications Team attended to provide the update on Post Office Counter Services in Beckenham. She informed the Group that Post Office Ltd, which owns and runs the Crown Post Office Network, was separated from the Royal Mail Group Ltd on 1 April 2012. In return for a package of Government funding for transformation and modernisation, the Post Office was committed to investing in the network, and maintaining a network of around 11,500 branches with no further substantive reductions and continued accessibility for all at the national level.
It was noted that the Government had moved many services online, and as a result usage was now different. There are now 300 Crown Post Offices including Beckenham. Ms Corfield stated that many Post Offices were not able to remain in high streets in their current form for economic reasons.
Some of the economic reasons were outlined as:
· High fixed costs
· High staff costs
· Reduction in customer numbers
Ms Corfield explained to the Working Group that W H Smith had been partnering with the Post Office for 10 years, and so a good working relationship had been established. The partnership was symbiotic in that it provided the Post Office with suitable high street locations, whilst providing an expanded customer base for WH Smith. It was the case that savings were now required to release money for investment, and that the government subsidy to the Post Office was decreasing.
The plan was that the Post Office in Beckenham would move into WH Smith in the High Street, and would take over roughly a third of the floor space. The business would be run by WH Smith as a franchise; there would be longer opening hours, with the addition of Sunday trading. The consultation process was ongoing.
Jackie Groundsell enquired about the ten year franchise with W H Smith and asked if the 10 year term began from the time that the generic franchise contract with W H Smith was originated, or whether it began with the new franchise contract at Beckenham. Ms Corfield promised to get back to the Group concerning this.
Alan Old enquired what the specific reasons were for closing the Post Office at its current location in Beckenham, as it was always very busy. Ms Corfield reiterated the economic reasons outlined previously, as well as the fact that the lease was expiring, and this would be expensive to renew. It was also the case that the Post Office was hopeful that it had sourced a suitable partnership opportunity with WH Smith in Beckenham High Street.
A member enquired what would happen if the franchise went ahead, and then WH Smith pulled out at a later date. Ms Corfield responded that if this occurred, then the Post Office would have to source an alternative partner.
Dr John Parker enquired if there were any floor plans that could be looked at. Ms Corfield replied that a floor plan could be supplied as long as it was not published. Dr Parker asked how mail would be picked up as there was no space at the rear of WH Smith. Ms Corfield replied that this was an ongoing matter of discussion with Royal Mail, and that she would update the Group in due course. Dr Parker would supply his email address to Ms Corfield for receipt of the floor plans.
Marie Pender commented that the floor plans had been shown at a meeting the previous week. She expressed grave concern over what appeared to be a lack of internal space. She envisioned problems with a lack of standing and queuing space, and this was without the additional problems that would be caused by buggies.
Ms Corfield stated that there had to be proper doors and plenty of floor space, these were non-negotiable. She stated that the Post Office would work with WH Smith and disability groups to try and resolve any problems. David Wood expressed the view that the proposals were hopeless. He was concerned about the lack of space, less staff, and the fact that there was only one exit at the back. He also reminded the Group that although it was the case that the Post Office had relocated to WH Smiths in Bromley, the Bromley site operated over two floors.
(1) that Ms Corfield email details of the floor plans to Dr John Parker
(2) that Ms Corfield update the Group in due course concerning clarification of the 10 year franchise term
(3) that Ms Corfield update the Group in due course concerning proposed arrangements for the collection of mail from the new location in the High Street