Alex Cunningham has voiced his frustration after receiving confirmation from the Post Office that plans to downgrade the branch on Stockton High Street from a Crown Office to a lesser, franchised branch within the WH Smith store in Wellington Square will go ahead.
Stockton North’s Labour Member of Parliament, after hearing that the change is scheduled to take place as early as February 2014, likened the move to privatisation by the back door and expressed his extreme disappointment at the decision being taken despite the concerns that were raised with the Post Office during the recent public consultation.
Despite huge investment by Stockton Borough Council and Lathe Investments to modernise the High Street as part of wider efforts to rejuvenate the local economy and attract new businesses to the area, the Post Office has declined to take a stake in the area and has chosen instead to turn its back. As a result, the range of services that customers currently enjoy at Post Office counters will be lost from the High Street.
“I am hugely concerned that this process will result in an inferior Post Office for residents across the Stockton Borough. As was feared, the Post Office will now move to a location that is not on the High Street and is considerably less accessible than the current arrangements, with the prospect of lost jobs as staff are transferred to WH Smith.
“It appears that the changes are simply a cost-cutting exercise, driven by the need to reduce expenditure, and overlook the likely impact on services provided. I don’t believe for one minute that they ever had any intention of listening to people in our community and the decision to downgrade our service was set in stone before their representatives even got to the town. And they’ve just ignored our Council who offered to work with them to retain Crown status.
“The founding principle of universal facilities, denoted by the equal availability of high-quality services at locations across the country, has been lost in the rhetoric of austerity, cuts, and efficiency savings as the Government continues its assault on public services.
“Post Office Ltd should have given Stockton Borough Council, and local people, a vote of confidence by investing in the existing infrastructure, and the future of the High Street, rather than relying on a third party to provide vital services.”