Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/525/3901
Following the Essex road
THE POST Office steamroller continues around the country. Behind it lies a growing number of closed branches and deprived communities, hitting the elderly and disabled hardest.
While local 'save post offices' campaigns have sprung up, the Post Office's phased 'rolling programme' of closures has made a national or even regional response more difficult. But now a new line of defence has opened up. Essex County Council are negotiating with Post Office Ltd to take over 15 of 32 branches recently closed. The withdrawal of equipment from all 32 has been suspended while talks go on.
The council put up £1.5 million over three years to access the financial books and decide where to put in funds to keep branches open. A figure of up to £18,000 a branch has been mentioned, so £1.5 million should keep most of them open for three years - not just 15 of them.
Essex CC are looking at increasing the number of customers by introducing some council services, such as paying parking permits and council tax bills. Post offices could move into a council building if there is one nearby.
Councillors around the country fear being voted out if they do nothing. They are usually cutting local services, so it is unsurprising that Essex Tory leader, Lord Hanningfield, said "I've been in local government a while and this has been the most popular thing I've ever been involved with."
Several government ministers have hypocritically supported campaigns in their own constituencies. Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said, "I think it's a very positive development and I would encourage councils to consider this."
But these same ministers (supported by the Tories) passed the Postal Services Act in 2000 and changes to the Disability Discrimination Act in 2005 - clearing the path for these closures!
Post Office Ltd now behaves like a private company rather than a public service. It intends to continue slashing its branch network from the 12,000 left by the end of this year to 6,500.
An urgent national campaign is needed, which the trade union leadership should be organising. As a temporary measure, the Essex road offers a way to save threatened branches.
At least this has prevented equipment being ripped out of closed branches, making it easier to reopen them. Where equipment has gone, councils should demand Post Office Ltd puts it back.
But councils run by pro-big business parties cannot be relied on to keep branches open while the government squeezes their finances. The Post Office must be restored as a national public service, under democratic public control, with local communities having a real say in their branch's future.
In The Socialist 19 March 2008:
National Union of Teachers Conference
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
Post Office closures
Socialist Party congress 2008
International socialist news and analysis