“Campaigning” is an overworked word in the Liberal Democrats’ vocabulary. A Thesaurus definition of a campaign is given as “vote-seeking activities”. True, even if it leads to no discernable action or result. The franchising of the Willesden Green Post Office in 2006 is an example. A flurry of banners and photo opportunities followed PO Ltd’s intention to franchise the Crown PO to a limited company. Such “campaigns” tend not to last long.
My approach has been different and has continued to recent months. It may not achieve much change but monitoring has been persistent. I wrote to both PO Ltd and PostWatch in 2006. My first objection was that the franchise company was not listed at Companies House at the time of the consultation letter (10th April), although in this, the company was described as “newly registered”. In fact, it was not registered until 19th April. This was misleading and cast some doubt on PO Ltd statement that there were “rigorous procedures” in the selection of franchise partners.
In my second objection letter, I asked whether the potential for renting empty rooms above the Post Office had been considered to reduce the subsidy and provide income to maintain the current service in PO Ltd hands. This information was described as “commercially sensitive” for both parties, but reading between the lines of the fuzzy reply, was more of a incentive to the potential franchisees than to the Post Office in maintaining a public service.
In recent months the franchisee submitted a planning application (since refused) to develop flats in the upper floors of the building. There were more questions for PO Ltd which retains the freehold ownership of the building according to Land Registry records. I therefore asked whether PO Ltd was aware of the application, would PO Ltd benefit from revenues from the flats or will the franchisee be the sole beneficiary, and if so, would some of the revenue go towards improving services, such as reducing the regular long queues?
Yes, they knew of the application, but no, cannot answer the others as information exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. A situation to watch for a while longer I believe.
Is the policy of other parties so different? It is Lib Dem policy to privatise post offices by selling off 50% and using the proceeds to subsidise the existing network. What is missing is any idea about what to do when the proceeds run out and you are left with a unprofitable retail network. The Conservatives also planned to privatise the Post Office in 1994.