Anyone who has been in the Post Office in the last few weeks can see the impact of the recent privatisation for themselves. There are long queues at the counter, the place looks shabby and there are leaves and litter on the floor. On the counter wall is a handwritten sign blaming the poor service on “staff vacancies”, which is one way of describing the fallout from a policy of mass redundancy and employing people on minimum wage.
Faversham was one of many Crown Post Offices handed over to private companies. The Faversham contract went to ZCO Limited, a company based in Bolton, Lancashire, run by a man called Zubeir Patel. ZCO has a sister company, Potent Solutions. The two businesses operate several post office franchises and have an appalling track record with Faversham just the latest casualty. The company has already gutted the post office in Sittingbourne and closed Sheerness.
As soon as ZCO got a grip on the Faversham Post Office, they laid everyone off. Three staff members have returned and one has joined, on minimum wage. Not surprisingly, the eight remaining leavers have not returned.
Jenny Reeves campaigned to save our Crown Post Office before running unsuccessfully for parliament as the local Labour candidate. She organised a public meeting and took a petition to Downing Street with members of post office workers’ union the CWP.
“Because people didn’t want to hear it, they chose not to get behind it,” says Jenny. “They wanted to believe it wasn’t going to change that much instead of what I was actually saying which was: ‘This is going to be huge.’ Some people said it was fearmongering. It wasn’t fearmongering. And it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.”
At the time of the privatisation, Kent Online quoted Roger Gale, the Post Office’s network and sales director (not be be confused with the North Thanet MP of the same name) who said: “We are making this change in order to maintain post office services in the centre of Faversham. There are unprecedented changes on our high streets and the needs of our customers are evolving too.”
Despite all the corporate management-speak, the reality is that the needs of customers have not evolved substantially since the first post office opened in 1643. The Post Office is one of the biggest suppliers of financial services in Britain. Customers want a prompt, efficient service. They do not expect a wait of between thirty and sixty minutes. No other high street retailer would dare deliver such a service.
As the Christmas queues get ever longer, Faversham Eye readers can warm themselves with the Post Office motto “helping you get life’s important things done”. In Faversham’s case “life’s important things” used to include a proper Post Office. Not any more.
Now beginning to resemble a bleak depot from 1970s Hungary with its empty shelves and unswept floors, our post office is a good place to experience long, Soviet-style queues. For those tempted to pass the time by sparking up a conversation with strangers, this statement from the Post Office makes a good talking point:
“As a commercial business the Post Office is driven also by its social purpose. As the hub of many towns and villages across the UK it understands the important role the local Post Office branch plays within communities, especially older and lonely people and more vulnerable members of society. For many, the Post Office remains an important source of their customers’ social interaction as well as providing important access to their essential needs. Postmasters up and down the country offer more than just a range of services, in many cases they are integral to their local community, making a meaningful impact to society.”