Assurances sought over Post Office cuts

THE plans by the Post Office network to make sizeable cutbacks in its services caused anger last week and it looks like this isn't going to die down anytime in the near future.

The rhetoric of local parliamentary politicians against the controversial proposals having already been aired, it was the turn of Scottish Borders Council last week to quiz representatives from the former nationalised business which, last year, recorded annual losses of 175million across the UK.

In the firing line were Julie Morrison, head of external relations with Post Office Ltd, and network development manager Sally Buchanan.

Assurances were sought over the security of customers using the mobile vans which will replace services currently delivered from shops and halls in three Berwickshire villages – Hutton, Greenlaw and Eccles.

Major concerns were raised about the reliability of the vans with Sally Buchanan being asked what would happen in the event of a van succumbing to bad weather.

However, Mrs Buchanan said a trial in the Wick area of north east Scotland showed that, in three years, the vehicles had always reached their destinations on time.

Present at the council meeting last Thursday was East Berwickshire councillor Michael Cook. He aimed a number of questions at the Post Office representatives, largely concerned with the situation in Hutton. It was announced last week that the existing facility in the village is to be replaced with a mobile service. As well as asking for further information on how this would operate, Councillor Cook also raised the contentious topic of confusion with postcodes for residents in Hutton and other places close which lie close to the Scottish border such as Foulden, Paxton, Mordington and Lamberton.

Councillor Cook said that like many others in these villages he had recently taken delivery of a Newcastle upon Tyne phone book even though he lives in the Scottish Borders. The problem lies with the fact that all of the aforementioned villages lie in the TD15 postal area and are served out of Berwick. Councillor Cook wanted to know why a shift to a TD16 postcode isn't seen as a sensible option.

Following the meeting, he said that he wasn't satisfied with the answer he was given from Julie Morrison.

"The answer to my question remained as impenetrable as ever.," he said.

"It now seems that it is not an operational problem. The Mail's attitude to this is the real issue. They seem incapable of explaining clearly why a suggestion such as a TD16 postcode is unachievable. It is suggested that it would affect other places. Well, I can't think it impossible to reach a practical solution elsewhere as here.

"My conclusion is that they simply lack the will to make it happen. They point out that the service to our area from Berwick is very well-regarded. It is. I'm very happy with it, but find it difficult to see why that same fine service can't be provided to the same area, renamed TD16 and made known to all that it lies in Berwickshire."

With the consultation period on the Post Office network's proposals now under way and running until September 29, John Lamont MSP and his colleague Westminister candidate Chris Walker have started their own campaign to help save offices throughout the Borders. This has so far seen the setting up of a website at www.saveborderspostoffices.com where people can sign an online petition against the Post Office network's proposals and cards have also been posted to homes in the areas affected.

And John said he has been overwhelmed by the response so far.

"Since the launch of our campaign in support of local Post Offices, my office has been quite simply overwhelmed by the response. We have received hundreds of petition postcards sent back already - and that is only after a few days. It is very clear that everyone is very concerned with what these proposals might mean for Post Office services in our area in the future.

"This suggests that the public meetings in Berwickshire which have been organised for September 15 will be very well attended. I have spoken to people in the affected communities, and many are up in arms over the proposed changes to the service provided by their local Post Office."

Berwickshire MP Michael Moore has also launched a survey, with the findings of which will be submitted to the Royal Mail as part of the consultation.

Commenting on the issue, Mr Moore said: "Royal Mail are planning some significant changes to the post office services in Berwickshire, including a substantial reduction in opening hours and replacements with mobile services.

"I am particularly concerned about the impact of these changes on older and more vulnerable people. There is a social aspect to the local post office which needs to be properly recognised. My survey will allow people to have their say on the proposals for their communities and I will make sure that all the responses I receive are passed on to Royal Mail for their consideration before the final decision is made."