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MP raises concerns over post office "downgrades" in Teesside
AN MP says he has been told his town’s premier post office is to be “downgraded” and franchised out into a shop sometime in the current financial year.
Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision and likened it to “privatisation by the back door.”
However the Post Office said the decision had not been made, a consultation would take place and whatever happens there will be no compulsory redundancies.
There have been campaigns to save both Stockton and Redcar main, or Crown, branches after The Post Office earlier this year announced they have both been identified as having the potential to be partnered with a retailer, and moved into an existing shop elsewhere.
Mr Cunningham did not reveal his source at the Post Office who said a decision had already been made, but said: “I am hugely concerned that this process will result in an inferior Post Office for residents across Stockton borough. 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.
“A move to franchising will likely result in our Post Office being transferred to a smaller, less accessible location with fewer counters and a reduced staff.”
A spokeswoman for the Post Office said: “No final decision has been made. However, we are proposing that any franchise of Stockton and Redcar Crown branch takes place during this financial year and we have informed the people working in the branch of this.
“Once a suitable partner is identified, there will be a six-week public consultation process to allow people to give us their views on the proposal. We are committed to keeping a branch in these areas. If no suitable retail partners are found we are committed to keeping a Crown branch in these areas.”
James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, accused Mr Cunningham of “scaremongering.”
He said: “I have discussed this in detail with Post Office and any change would not mean a loss of services, could well mean increased hours and would be subject to consultation. So long as the full range of services is retained in Stockton High Street I will work with Post Office and support their efforts to invest in our town. Scaremongering by politicians who either don't understand or deliberately mislead is not helpful."
Ian Swales, Liberal Democrat MP for Redcar, voted along with Mr Wharton to prepare the Royal Mail, the Post Office’s sister organisation, for privatisation. Mr Swales could not be contacted for comment.
In Stockton Borough Council, which is investing heavily in the High Street at the present time, has passed a motion at Full Council calling on the Crown post office to be saved. The Communication Workers Union is actively campaigning to prevent both Stockton and Redcar branches being closed and has said staff numbers could be reduced and pay and conditions could be worse.
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