Shebbear and Buckland Filleigh
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SHEBEAR POST OFFICE CLOSURE STORY (in reverse order)
MP FACE TO FACE WITH POST OFFICE EXECUTIVES
Geoffrey Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, met senior Post Office executives responsible for the Post Office closure programme last week. Geoffrey Cox, who has made scathing criticisms of the policy and handling of the process, invited Angela Van Den Bogerd, the national head of last year’s “Network Change Programme” and Tony Jones, Post Office’s Regional Development Manager, to the constituency to raise issues concerning the implementation of the round of Branch closures announced earlier this year and to press for the promised outreach services to be delivered in full to rural communities.
The MP, who intends to monitor the performance and sustainability of the new services, has already received concerned letters and telephone calls from residents of Shebbear about the repeated breakdown of the systems on board the mobile post office that is supposed to replace the village’s post office branch and about the number and quality of services it can provide. He has also been in close touch with postmasters such as Richard and Naomi Nardi in Bridestowe, West Devon, who are being asked to operate the so-called “partnered” service, in a contractual arrangement with a “core” postmaster. Concerns have been raised about the viability of these contracts in the long term. More details here
Our MP also said "I have also said that I shall closely monitor the arrangements, and press for the reopening of some of our rural branches if they do not deliver an adequate service.” and has asked if we can keep him informed about what we think of our new mobile post office service. He is very keen to hear from you if you have had any problems with it or if it fails to meet your needs in any way. Mr Cox has promised to try and ensure that we get the best service possible, he has specifically mentioned Shebbear so let's keep him to his word and please be sure to contact him with any concerns and he will follow them up with the Post Office Ltd. If you have any specific issues about the new service, such as the problems associated whit the snow, any breakdowns, long queues, lack of services etc. be sure send your comments to Geoffrey Cox. We deserve a better service than we are currently getting.
By email: If you email Geoffrey, please include your name and postal address, as Geoffrey may wish to reply by letter. email@example.com
By Post: You can write to Geoffrey at: 2 Bridge Chambers, Lower Bridge Street, Bideford, Devon, EX39 2BU. http://www.geoffreycox.co.uk/
THE POST OFFICE LIVES TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY?
This is the question being posed by Scott and Lynette Shepherd, Directors of TCS a logistics and distribution consultancy business based in the village.
After the recent government announcements that our post office would close I got thinking that we should try and keep a service in the village that could benefit all users of parcel and packet delivery services and potentially any non urgent mail services. I have some claim to this statement as our industry expertise spans over 20 years of working for distributions business across the UK. Before we started TCS I worked as a Sales Director for UK Mail, the leading rival to the Royal Mail for postal collection services, my time with the group (8 years) served me well and allowed my final push to start TCS with Lynette. We now employ 5 people across the UK and there will be 2 more joining us in January. The reason for the detail into this background is that TCS offers a service whereby we manage our clients third party carrier, parcel and mail usage and help them find new solutions as alternatives to their current providers a service that Shebbear Post office could benefit from.
We are offering to look at the volumes of parcels, packets and non-urgent mail that is sent through the Post Office and currently delivered by Royal Mail or Parcelforce and seek alternative suppliers that will offer these services by collecting parcels, packets and non-urgent mail from our post office with the residents of the village benefitting from this service still being offered by the local shop, lets call it an alternative delivery method or ADM for short. Our theory is that perhaps local post offices that have been effected by the recent (pre-planned closures) can perhaps club together and use one or two carriers such as Business Post (UK Mail), City Link, DHL, TNT, UPS or FedEx UK for onward deliveries of their parcels, packets and mail that their customers give to them which are currently delivered by Royal Mail and Parcelforce.
Its great to have an alternative and not be left feeling that we have been let down by the Royal Mail, which of course we all have. I'm afraid that I don't have all the answers and this will not deal with all of the services that Shebbear post office offers, but it may give us back some independence that makes our village a great place to live and work in. What's the point of this message?
I want some information. In order for me to work with Keith and Ann I need to collate some information so that we can understand what is sent through the post office currently as parcels and packets. We know the volumes of pure mail that is sent and we are working on a profile to look at suppliers than can offer an alternative collected mail delivery service that will keep a postal system in the village.
I need to know about all the people in the village that send parcels, perhaps to loved ones across the UK or beyond, or for business or indeed for E-bayers out there who send small parcels out frequently and rely on the post office being there to send them through.
If you can take the time to drop me a line I will collate the information and work with Keith and Ann to see if there is a viable business in dealing with a new supplier for these services and keep our post office providing this valuable lifeline to the rest of the country. I need to know the following:
Look out for the alternative mail providers on the letters being delivered to your house, look out for DHL, TNT and UK Mail on the top of your letters (Top right) and perhaps our future for Shebbear post office is to tie up with one of these providers?
In terms of time I am hoping to complete this exercise by the end of October and would appreciate your responses by then, there is some debate as to when the post office will stop being a post office and the latest we have is that it could be January.
Post Office Closures (again) by Keith Horwell
There seems to be some confusion, understandable under the circumstances, over the Governments recent announcement regarding the future of the Post Office Network. The fact that Post Office Ltd has retained the contract for the Card Account will not affect the decision to close our office in Shebbear. We remain doomed. The 3,000 offices that are to be ‘saved’ are not part of the current programme of Network Change. Quite how they came up with a figure of 3,000 is anyone’s guess, but it represents the number of branches they think would have closed if they had lost the contract.
As for our own situation, I have spoken to a senior figure within POL today, Thursday, and have been told to expect to close within the first two weeks of January. With their customary sensitivity they had wanted to close Shebbear on 30th December and our office in Buckland Brewer on 24th December, an offer which we were moved to decline. They have now gone away to think about things again and we hope to have firm dates available within the next few days.
I have also requested from this senior figure that she tell me exactly WHY our office has been selected for closure. Her first attempt was full of the same old rubbish we have all heard so many times before; access criteria, local social and economic factors, financial benefit to the Post Office – all worked out on a mathematical model etc etc blah blah blah. OK but which boxes didn’t we tick? We are resigned to losing our own contract but we really would like to go down understanding why we managed to fit the criteria and other obvious local candidates did not. The lady has promised me some answers next week, I’m not holding my breath for any common sense, but I’ll let everyone know how I get on.
POSTMASTER WONDERS WHERE HIS RAG IS
One of the great joys of undergoing the process of Network Change has been my electronic correspondence, albeit a little one-sided, with Tony Jones ( firstname.lastname@example.org ), Regional Development Manager - Agency Change, Post Office Ltd. Tony has been in charge of axing Post Offices throughout the Southern part of the country, and he’s the man in the know. One would have to concede that being ‘in the know’ as far as the Post Office is concerned is somewhat relative. However, I persevere, and you will find below, copied in full, the message I sent to my friend Tony (he’s not really my friend, I just wrote that to make me appear more kind and understanding) earlier today.
Tony has a hard job, his day to day role involves taking and then attempting to justify ridiculous decisions. Unfortunately the decisions don’t stand a great deal of scrutiny and the justifications lean towards being both puerile and patronising. It would be very unfair of people to lumber Tony with yet more meaningless tasks to fill his week and therefore I would urge the citizens of Shebbear and Buckland Filleigh not send emails to email@example.com giving vent to their feelings about the closure of our Post Office and the significant failure to come up with a workable alternative.
It is my view that Network Change has been laughable in its ineptitude. The arrogance of the decision making process beggars belief , the pomposity of the ‘Team’ has been excruciating and the delays in implementing the ‘plan’ (what plan?) have been scandalous.
Remember, Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is far too busy ripping the hearts out of communities and looking forward to his bonus to deal with the likes of you and I, so please don’t trouble him at email@example.com with your trifling problems or grievances. I will, but I’m special. Are any of you special too?
Anyway, to fuel your outrage here’s what went to Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org) this afternoon.
“Hello Yet Again Tony,
Thanks very much for taking the time and trouble in deciding not to reply to the simple questions posed in my last email. We had expected nothing less as the failure to communicate or manage has been shot through Network Change like the word ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock.
As time continues to pass exceeding slow our customers are becoming more and more confused. We have passed on the information regarding the proposed closure as it has become available (let’s picture Chinese Water Torture here), but the mounting delays have muddled the issues in people’s minds and many are beginning to think that there may yet be hope. Tony, you and I both know that there is none, but people are optimists and one must salute their faith in the Post Office’s ability to do the right thing. What a shame that they are so wrong.
Now, just in case you had forgotten my original question or, even worse, passed it on to a minion, may I remind you of what it was?
WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO CLOSE US DOWN?
It doesn’t seem to be hard question, particularly as you and your Network Change buddies have had at least eight months to come up with an answer. If I thought it would make it easier for you I’d draw a picture, although I must concede that I would find it difficult to conjure a visual representation of the Network Change Team without laying myself open to legal action.
Still harping on about the same old communication thing, I wonder if you’d be kind enough to furnish me with the name and contact details of your boss? It’s been haunting me that communication ‘up the line’ may be just as poor as it is throughout the network and your superiors may still be unaware of the mess that’s been made of Network Change in Devon. I’m a busy guy, but I’m sure I could spare ten minutes to put someone in the picture. I have a couple of theories about The Peter Principle which I’d like to share and which may help them in preparing for the next inevitable round of closures in which one would hope, though not expect, that the axe falls in the right places. If you’re unfamiliar with the principle there’s a rather good definition on Wikipedia which states "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." It would be my personal view that Post office Ltd represents a classic hierarchy. I rest my case.
Finally, if the provision of Outreach services really is proving too difficult for the massed minds of the ‘Team’ to solve perhaps I may be able to help. Prior to becoming a lackey for the Post Office I once held a ‘proper job’ as Production Manager working for a large company in a service industry. I really don’t think I’d have much trouble coming up with a feasible plan as I never managed to gain promotion to my level of incompetence. I had a nice car though. Talk to me about a price.
Hoping for a prompt reply,
Our community has been kicked good an hard by a combination of the Government & Post Office Ltd. By closing our thriving post office and attacking the effectiveness of our community. We now know that they have both treated us with contempt.
If you feel that you want to make a stand over this decision or would simply like to try and maintain a strong local service, some local residents are calling on us to do some or all of the following:
If you feel strongly about this you can contact the website to pledge support for a protest or simply have your comments included on the website.
Below is a statement from our post master.
So they’ve finally done it, Network Change has reached it’s illogical conclusion and Shebbear will no longer have it’s own Post Office. The process began for us in July 2007 when we were invited to ‘The Network Change Roadshow’, here it was explained that the PO Network was unsustainable in its current form and that the weaker branches would be cut for the greater good. It seemed to make sense, after all we would be OK, we didn’t seem to fit the access criteria, there are strong local socio-economic reasons to retain an office here, and being as busy as we are, it appeared that there would be no economic benefit to Post Office Ltd through our closure. Furthermore we had previously reduced our hours, at the suggestion of POL, in order to safeguard us from future closure. How wrong we were.
At the Roadshow they explained the procedure of Network Change. After an initial visit from a ‘Field Change Advisor’ there would be a six week period of public consultation, after which the office would be closed anyway. This really is what we were told, and it turned out to be true. The offices to be closed were selected with the aid of a ‘mathematical model’ in which POL have shown a touching faith throughout the process. At one stage we were told by a senior figure in POL ‘not to expect any common sense or fairness’ and in that they were right again. He should have added that there would also be no transparency, logic or sensitivity. Tim Nickolls, the gentleman who failed to arrive at our open meeting, has been fond of telling the press that ‘difficult decisions have been made’, and in my view, they have made serious errors in the process. It’s been a sordid business with an appalling outcome.
Unfortunately the saga isn’t over yet. Despite having had the last six months (at least) to make plans for the Outreach service, POL seems to have only just begun thinking (if that’s not too wild an assumption) about the problem. As a result we have been told not to expect a confirmed final closure date until November 13th, after that we may be shut down at any time between November 20th and January 28th. Not unusually, POL have failed to take into account the feelings or wishes of those whose livelihoods are being threatened by their actions, or lack of them. From our point of view, we just want out now, if they’re going to do it, just do it and allow us to move on. It’s not that we want to deprive Shebbear of it’s final few weeks of Post Office service, or ourselves of a couple of pay cheques, we’re just at the end of our tether and suffering a distinct lack of motivation in respect of anything Post Office related. Stuff ‘em.
In all the months of dangling on the POL string we have, of course, been making plans. We began with Plan A, quickly got to F, through to Z, onwards through Plan A*, B* C*, the only trouble was that we didn’t have any firm information on which to base them. Some of the plans were very good, it’s just a shame that the facts turned up and got in the way. Despite the absence of dates we are now able to try and put things in perspective, and we’ve decided to fight back. For obvious reasons we don’t want to see the mobile Outreach service succeed, so we’re going into competition. ALL of the compensation we receive from the closure will be ploughed back into improvements, and probably more besides. We intend to offer a comparable, and in some cases better, range of services than the Post Office. We will have a free to use ATM, we’ll install Paypoint so that you’ll be able to pay utility bills, council tax, TV licences, and much more at any time the shop is open. Those who currently draw pensions and benefits through the Post Office Card Account will have the option of having those payments made into a bank, and then having access to their funds through our ATM, all day every day. As for mail products, we’re looking at those too, a local consultant has kindly offered his help to set up a service, and although it’s early days and we have nothing concrete to report, we’re hoping to be able to offer equivalents to 2nd class post, parcel post, international mail and Special delivery, all at cheaper prices than Royal Mail. This will come at a horrendous cost as POL will penalise our enterprise by ‘fining’ us a large proportion of our compensation, and this will run to many thousands of pounds. Stuff ‘em. We’ll do it anyway. Needless to say, having paid such a high price we’ll be calling on everyone to use the services once they are in place. Tear up those Direct Debits, don’t buy those stamps and if you do, we’ll keep going. This really is going to be ‘use it or lose it’, but this time the playing field will be level, last time everyone DID use it, and we still lost it, that will not happen again if we’re in control of our own destiny. As far as the Post Office is concerned we’d like to be the tiger with its tail pulled. They confidently speak of retaining 85% of their business after Network Change. Stuff ‘em. Let’s not give them any. Stuff ’em, stuff, ‘em stuff ‘em.
It’s going to be a tough few months. We’ve enjoyed fantastic support throughout the campaign and I’m sure that the community will be behind us as we enter the next stage. It’s definitely a time to be positive, there’s no point in griping over what’s lost, its an opportunity count our blessings. Many villages have nothing, and here we are with schools, churches, pub, surgery and, we hope, a thriving shop. Whether our business will be sustainable without the income and additional footfall from the Post Office remains to be seen, but we’ll be trying to offer the best possible range of services in the best possible environment. Only time will tell if we’re doing the right thing.
Finally, I had a chat with Mr Nickolls following the decision. I elected myself as village spokesman and no longer felt the need to be nice. I believe that Mr Nickolls now has earache and may have learned one or two new words.
Keith & Ann Horwell
What the Post Office has to say; Supplementary Post Office report
I have just got home from a weekend on Exmoor and to look at my emails and find the post office has closed is the last straw especially with all the hard work that everyone has done to try and keep it open. I for one will do everything to support Keith and Anne in maintaining the village shop.
Jenny Morritt 8th September 2008
SHEBBEAR AGONY CONTINUES
The hot news about Shebbear Post Office is that there is currently no news. Post Office Ltd have released their report on the future of 2,500 branches throughout the UK.
Entitled 'Network Change Programme Area Plan Decision Booklet Devon' rather than a more aptly named 'network decimation Programme', the report has delayed on deciding the future of 7 of Devon's post offices, including Shebbear..
A total of 32 of the branches being closed will be replaced by outreach services, for example mobile post offices.
Click on this link for the full Post Office Report
As I’m sure most of you are aware, the six week consultation period which formed part of the Network Change Programme for Devon has now finished. We enjoyed huge support during our campaign and we would like to thank everyone who attended the public meeting and sent in submissions on our behalf. No matter what the final outcome we won’t be left wondering ‘what if…..?’. I don’t believe that we could have done anything more either individually, or as a community but it remains to be seen whether our best was good enough.
The initial plan was that we would know our fate by July 22nd, but typically, things are not that straightforward. In their wisdom, Post Office Ltd have decided to keep us hanging on a little longer and we have been informed that there is going to be a delay of up to six weeks until we have a decision. Having been in an uncomfortable limbo since February we were rather hoping to have things settled, one way or the other, by now and to say that we feel frustrated by the current turn of events would be something of an under-statement.
I have given up trying to second-guess what the Post Office might do next. It seems fairly clear that Postwatch have raised objections to the closure. We are unable to discover what on which particular grounds they have intervened, not that it matters at this stage as we have no further input into the debate. From what I have been able to discover our case has now been ‘escalated’, which means, in simple terms, that it will be reviewed by fresh pairs of eyes from both Postwatch and Post Office Ltd. If they are still unable to agree it will be ‘escalated’ further, and then again, and again through each of five layers of management until it finally reaches the desk of Alan Cook, Managing Director of Post Office Ltd who will be the final arbiter. No wonder they’re skint.
So, what then? If we remain open everything will be hunky-dory until the next round of closures which will happen, but who knows when? If the decision is to proceed with closure the situation will still not be clear. Devon County Council have indicated their willingness to support rural shops faced with closure although we still don’t know what form that help will take and whether the numbers would stack up well enough to make it work. I’d like to think that by the end of September we might have some realistic plans in place, but it’s all out of our hands, at least for the time being and we’ll just have to sit and wait. Again.
LETTERS sent to the POST OFFICE
Re: Proposed Shebbear Post Office Closure
Although it may make sense in urban areas to close some post offices on the basis of distance to an alternative, it makes no sense in rural areas where public transport or road divergences make access to the nearest remaining PO virtually impossible. For example, if the PO at Shebbear closed the nearest PO’s would be in Sheepwash and Black Torrington. Neither of these can be reached by public transport and would involve and extremely arduous and dangerous walk along single lane roads with no footpath. The next most logical alternative PO’s are in Great Torrington or Holsworthy, both of which involve a day’s outing on public transport, with only one bus out early mornings and the return journey in the evening.
In rural areas the only sensible criteria for PO closure has to be demand, need and popularity, and therefore profitability. The idea of “pulling sacrificial lambs out of a hat” is ridiculous and unprofessional. The PO in Shebbear has a lively turnover and more often than not a queue of people waiting to be served, which also makes the idea of a mobile PO, visiting once a week, a nonsense.
On a national scale the closure of rural or sub-post offices was probably the right and sensible long-term plan based on economic conditions 5 – 10 years ago. The situation has changed. Oil prices have now rocketed to over US$130.00 per barrel, raising the cost of petrol and diesel considerably over the last year. These prices are unlikely to return to the level of even last year again. In rural areas particularly the average income is lower than the national average and the vast majority of the population in these areas are going to be forced to cut down on mileage. This is already happening in poorer areas of Europe, i.e. southern Spain, Italy and Portugal, where large numbers of people have had to limit car use to one or two days per week. It may be difficult for city dwellers to imagine that scenario in this country, but it is not as difficult for those living and working in the poorer parts of the country. It is highly likely in the south west, where large number of senior citizens choose to live out their retirement years, the same situation will arise. In fact it is probable that many dependant on a state pension will be obliged to give up private vehicles, making them totally dependant on the very inadequate and sporadic public transport in many areas.
The economic recession is predicted to become deeper, perhaps even develop into a depression, with the first job losses in the more remote areas, again largely because of transportation costs. Some experts in fact believe it is going to be years before the market recovers to its former buoyancy, largely because this will be dependent on the fast development of alternative fuels and affordable technology. Large numbers of people living in poorer rural areas will be the last in position to purchase new cars capable of running on alternative power. If the academic and economic minds behind the long-term policy of the P.O. were to take this into consideration they would be in a position to take advantage of this situation over the coming years to make the remaining sub-post offices a viable business.
Like many “incomers”, and indeed local people, I run my own business from home. I do not make a vast amount of money, but enough to keep body and soul together and to make me independent of state benefits of any kind. I do not have access to private transport during the day. I work 6 days a week, usually for 8 – 10 hours daily, but I am not complaining about this as I enjoy my work. Little enough is done to assist hard working people trying to earn their own living, but I resent it deeply when distant organisations take short-sighted decisions that have a profoundly negative impact on my life. I depend on being able to take mail to the Post Office in Shebbear on a daily basis. I pay cheques in at the Post Office. I depend on access to cash from the cash machine at the Post Office. None of these daily tasks can be achieved, as yet, via the internet. There is no way that a mobile van, once weekly, could cope with even a fraction of the needs of this village.
I can only speak for myself but if the Post Office in Shebbear is closed, I already know that I will no longer be able to continue running my business.
We have all had a day or two now to take in what happened, or didn't, at the meeting on Monday 9th. Those of you who know me well will not be surprised to hear that I made some fairly strident points to the Post Office over the non arrival of Tim Nickolls. It appears that he was ill, but nobody told us, which was a huge relief to me as I had sat there for a while on the stage wondering whether I'd given him the correct date. I realise that there is no benefit to the democratic debate, but as a result of Tim Nickolls absence I have been promised a meeting with his boss, which is potentially a good thing. We spoke on the telephone yesterday and I have a real opportunity to press our case to someone who has power to act. The bad news is that you'll have to trust me on that one, I know that I wouldn't, but frankly there is no choice. If allowed, I intend to invite Brian Berman from Devon County Council to sit alongside me, Brian is leading Devon County's negotiations with Post Office Ltd and might be a valuable ally.
Overall, I am slightly more optimistic about our prospects, there is still much to do and we won't have a final decision until late July, but if we all do our bit, who knows? Which brings me onto the letter writing. I certainly do not want to tell everyone what to say, 500 versions of my thoughts would not be a good idea, and also rather limiting. It's important that we all do our own thing, each of us will approach the problem from a slightly different aspect and a range of views can only help our case. I would, however, like to remind everyone of the few areas in which we can fight the battle and where your submissions will have the greatest effect.
The above are just a few suggestions of things to consider and by no means a definitive list. I'd urge everyone to take a few minutes to consider both the personal and wider implications of Post Office closure, and then put pen to paper. If you know of anyone who might need help with organising their submission please let us know. We have had a couple unsolicited offers from people who would be prepared to assist, and I'm sure that we can put the right people together where necessary.
Finally I'd like to thank Paul Watts for his sterling efforts in keeping everyone up to date through the website, for a Charlton Athletic supporter he can at times be almost human.
And double finally, a reminder of where to send your submissions, they can either be sent by email to:- email@example.com or by post to FREEPOST CONSULTATION TEAM (that really is the entire address, no stamp required).
Thanks to everyone
for your support so far, all we have to do now is see it through.
Shebbear in Massive Turnout to support our Post Office
It was standing room only at Shebbear College on Monday evening 9th June. The good citizens of our community turned out in force to show Post Office Ltd. that they have picked the wrong village when they chose to blight our community.
Local MP Geoffrey Cox chaired the meeting and vowed to fight our corner. Speaker after speaker stood and professed disbelief that Shebbear Post Office should be closed. Looking for answers from the Post Office representative turned out to be a vain hope as Tim Nickolls, Network Development (sic) Manager for the South West failed to show on the night.