Here in Hastings and Rye, as across the country, our post offices and our independent shops are part of our communities. They are at the heart of the villages, towns and cities they serve providing a range of vital services and a friendly high street to local residents.
Post Office Ltd, the company which oversees the national network of branches, recently consulted on proposed changes to the London Road, St Leonards branch. The proposals would see the branch remain in the same location but, instead of being run directly by the Post Office, it would be operated as a franchise by a new business partner. The premises would be refurbished to include a newsagent to run alongside the Post Office with longer opening hours and offering the same range of products and services as before.
As we continue to access more and more services online, it is important that the Post Office has the freedom to modernise to ensure it serves the best needs of local communities now and into the future.
While it is right that the Post Office should seek to remain commercially viable, I am absolutely clear that the modernisation of the St Leonards branch must not mean closure, job losses, or a reduction or a degradation of services. Also, the new business which will run the branch must operate responsibly and in the best interests of our town. I have made my position on this clear to the Post Office. As long as these requirements are met, I will work with the Post Office to help shape the changes in St Leonards so that we can benefit from a local branch which provides the services we need for as long as we need them.
Since 2010, nearly £2 billion has been invested to maintain, modernise and protect the national Post Office network. The day-to-day management of the network and decisions on getting the right branches in the right locations are operational matters for Post Office Ltd. Since 2012, a combination of investing in some Crown branches and franchising those which can be more successfully provided by a business partner has helped move the Crown branch network from making an annual £50 million loss to breaking even. The Post Office network is now at its most stable for decades. Between 2000 and 2010 6,500 Post Offices across the country were closed. We have now seen this level off, and the Government and the Post Office are committed to maintaining the current network.
Every Post Office is valued by the community it serves. There is no doubt this is the case in St Leonards. That’s why I have engaged with Post Office Ltd to make clear that any changes must support our needs.