We English are a funny bunch. As the very nice chap from Post Office Ltd – a company wholly owned by the Government – finished telling residents their village post office would close its doors before Christmas and he couldn’t really say when another would open for business, he received a polite round of applause.
Still hanging in the air was the question from one villager during the discussion at Alvechurch Parish Council’s monthly meeting: What about the people who couldn’t get to any alternative facilities, would they be “left high and dry”?
The answer to that is: “Yes.” For this is just another example of the way vital services across this country are being dismantled, with those responsible hiding behind those two great imposters of our times: “Consultation” and “market forces”.
The once-proud Post Office appears now to be something successive Governments would prefer to see despatched into the pages of history – and if that is the case, well, why doesn’t one of them stand up and admit it?
The answer to that is that they are terrified of the backlash, one that would be so strong precisely because so many people, particularly in rural and semi-rural areas, are reliant on the one, last financial outlet they can reach.
As one villager pointed out at the meeting, what is the use of arranging a shuttle bus to take people to the post office in Barnt Green for someone whose disability means they can’t get on the bus?
The reality is that the system Post Office Ltd uses to maintain rural outlets is far too likely to result in there being no post office for villagers to use.
As the man from Post Office Ltd admitted, the way post offices are now configured means it is not possible to run a stand-alone post office business – it needs to be run alongside a “retail offer”, in other words, another shop.
This is just about acceptable when a retailer can easily be found to do this – but, as he also pointed out: “When we advertised the vacancy, there wasn’t a queue of people wanting to take over the post office.”
So, for the past couple of years, Post Office Ltd has been keeping all of Alvechurch’s eggs in the one basket of a proposed new retailer, which has so far failed to get planning permission for the store it wants to open in the centre of the village – and against which there is quite a large amount of local opposition.
Anyone who thinks this is a dismal way to maintain a vital service should contact their MP and tell him that if he wants their vote, he must sort this out.