Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins has been left stunned after plans to transfer the town centre’s Post Office operation into a WH Smith’s store has been given the go-ahead.
Post Office Ltd confirmed on Tuesday that the crown branch operation on Market Place will close on March 26 and be transferred to the nearby retailer’s on The Pavements on March 27 with promises of extended hours and access seven-days-a-week.
But Mr Perkins is concerned the Post Office will be operating in a smaller space with a reduced number of service points and with staff working under WH Smith’s new reduced terms and conditions.
He said: “I’m far from convinced that this move is in the best interests of customers. The number of service points at the new outlet will be six, reduced from the offering of twelve in the current building with staff employed by WH Smith’s rather than directly by the Post Office on lesser terms and conditions.”
Mr Perkins claims there has been “little appetite” among the nineteen staff at the Post Office branch to move to The Pavements centre.
CWU union representative David Bowmaker also raised concerns the move will lead to fewer counter windows during peak times and that staff under WH Smith’s will only have a minimum wage and redeployment options could force them out of the area.
Post Office Ltd stated Chesterfield is one of about 70 Crown Post Offices earmarked for franchise to ensure branches are sustainable and no longer reliable on Government funding. It plans to invest about £70m in around 300 Crowns to ensure viability because they have been operating at a £40m loss.
Chesterfield Post Office is one of 367 Crown branches that are directly owned by Post Office Ltd which claims the vast majority of Post Office branches - over 10,000 - are successfully run by carefully selected third parties within retail premises.
Post Office Ltd claims there will be no compulsory redundancies and it is willing to help with transfers to the new employer or redeployment.
Roger Gale, Crown Network General Manager, said: “We are committed to keeping a Post Office branch in Chesterfield and to maintaining the same levels of service for our customers. We believe the best way for us to do this is to change the way we operate the branch, so following the move it will be run by WHSmith High Street Ltd rather than by us directly.”
Chesterfields’ new Post Office will have six serving positions and offer the same products and services with the exclusion of an external cash machine, according to Post Office Ltd.
Mr Perkins also criticised the Post Office’s consultation as a “sham” which failed to consider public opinion.
He said: “It seems the ‘public consultation’ has had little or no input in the Post Office’s current plans and was little more than a PR exercise.
“Once again, it seems Chesterfield is losing out on a vital public service. I will be speaking to them urgently to alleviate constituents’ concerns and to learn just how the public consultation could possibly have led to this.”
Post Office Ltd claims its research shows customer satisfaction levels are as high for customers visiting franchises.
It stated it has carefully considered feedback and is confident the new branch will be suitably located and WHSmith will meet needs and deliver an excellent service.
Post Office Ltd is also proposing to move Baslow Post Office to the Spar and Matlock’s Crown branch has been earmarked for a move.