Post Office to ‘remain in town centre’
BALLYMENA councillors have been given assurances that the town’s main post office will remain in the town centre.
As the Times reported last month, the Wellington Street branch is one of 70 Crown branches across the UK which are involved in a consultation over their future, with Post Office stressing it is not a “closure programme”.
Instead, Post Office is seeking for a “retail partner” to take on the franchise, either at the existing location or another outlet nearby.
The move would be similar to existing smaller franchises which are located within supermarkets and other outlets.
At last Thursday’s meeting of the council’s Planning Committee, Mark Gibson from the Post Office was on hand to allay fears that the main town centre branch could close as part of the restructuring plans. Mr Gibson, Senior Stakeholder Manager with the Post Office, explained that out of the Post Office’s 11,800 branches across the UK, 370 are classed as Crown Post Offices which are owned and operated by the company - the rest are contracted out to sub-postmasters.
He explained that the Crown network is losing an estimated £40 million per year and while the Post Office has been given £1.34 billion by the Government to help restructure the whole company, there is a restriction in place that the Crown network must break even by March 2015.
Councillor Beth Adger asked for assurances over the Wellingston Street branch.
“There are fears at the minute that it’s going to be closed,” Cllr. Adger said.
Mr Gibson said: “Part of the plan is to look to retail partners that would take over the Crown branches. If we do not get a retail partner for a branch, it will remain as a Crown branch. There will still be Post Office in Ballymena, if not in the existing building then one close to that building.
“It remains to be seen what way thay will turn out.”
Councillor Timothy Gaston asked for clarification over the main branch in the town centre, pointing out there is a another branch within the Co-op on Broughshane Street, just a “five minute or so walk away”.
“Are you going to turn round and say that’s the main Post Office branch,” Cllr. Gaston asked.
He added: “I think it’s very important that it’s kept within the town centre.”
Mr Gibson replied that he would “give a commitment” to keep a Post Office branch in the town.
He reiterated the Post Office’s proposal to find a retail partner for the branch but added: “Our commitment is that if we cannot find a retail partner, it will stay as it is.”
During the meeting, councillors also heard of Post Office’s plans for the rest of the organisation, with Mr Gibson outlining the Goverment funding of £1.34 billion is to “make the Post Office more viable”.
“Fifteen, or 10 years ago, we would have had 22,000 Post Offices - nearly 800 in Northern Ireland,” Mr Gibson said.
He added: “We now have 11,800 - 400 in Northern Ireland. There are changes ahead of us to keep the us being relevant for the future.”
Mr Gibson explained that part of the plans were to turn the 2,000 of the smaller branches into ‘local’ branches. He stressed it would be on a voluntary basis adding the sub-postmasters were not being forced into the plans.
The plan would see a retail opportunity to run alongside the ‘local’ branch which would mean the Post Office would be open when the retail is open, potentially meaning longer opening hours.
Mr Gibson said 4,000 of the Post Office branches will be classed as ‘main’ branches and will remain open during the core hours of 9am to 5.30pm.
“We want to go from a decline [in Post Office usage] to an increase.Let’s use it before we lose it.”
Councillor Hubert Nicholl asked if under the new proposals, more branches would get additional services, particularly that of issuing car tax documents.
Mr Gibson said Post Office would love to role out the service to more branches but said the DVLA stipulated how many branches could provide the service.
“We can only have ‘X’ thousand of branches providing that,” Mr Gibson said.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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