On Thursday, I am led to believe, the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) ceases to be an independent voice for Subpostmasters as it becomes a Post Office Ltd funded Trade Association. Some may suggest that it has never truly been an independent voice but Thursday sees the much talked about Memorandum of Understanding between the NFSP and POL taking effect.
From Thursday all new Operators and Community Office Subpostmasters will be enrolled at POL’s expense into the NFSP. They can opt out of course but why should they? It’s free after all.
In this blog I don’t want to spend much time on discussing the NFSP. The organisation after all is allegedly controlled by only two people, George Thomson and Mervyn Jones, both of whom receive extraordinary salaries for such a small company. There is undeniably a case to be put that self interest could play a large part in their leadership roles. With POL now committed to funding the salaries of these two gentlemen ad infinitum what they say or do allegedly on behalf of their members needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Several years ago, on a visit to POL HQ in London, I discussed the role of these two gentlemen with senior management at POL. George, they said, sends them to sleep whenever he opens his mouth. He is of no interest whatsoever to POL. Mervyn on the other hand does provide some intelligence to the debate but they dislike him intensely so prefer not be in the same room as him if they can help it.
In some respects though I have a great admiration for George Thomson. He rose from the ashes of a failed political career in several different parties to get to the top of what may be a small organisation in terms of numbers but an extremely large one geographically. He did this by having the ability of knowing his audience and being able to talk to them on their level. With no disrespect to many of my esteemed former colleagues, I have been to NFSP branch meetings and watched Videos of NFSP conferences, it is safe to say that George’s ability to talk to the majority of them on their level is natural.
Leaving aside the personal interest aspect for a moment, The NFSP’s position for many years – even pre George and Mervyn (G&M) – was to protect the commerciality of the network and ensure its survival by accepting and promoting cost cutting exercises such as network size reduction even if that resulted in hardship for some of its members.
G&M continued with that policy when NT was announced. That was where they went sadly wrong. It was too easy for POL to persuade them that NT was all about ensuring the survival of the network in the face of a reduced annual subsidy from the Government. I think the concept that the underlying raison d’etre for maintaining the network size above its optimum commercial size was purely political, was lost on them. What they should have done was to put a counter proposal forward to protect their members interests and not POL’s interests. They could have and should have defended the amount of the subsidy being paid against the backdrop of huge head office overheads as well as comparing the measly amount of subsidy offered to a network of strategic importance to other subsidised national infrastructure organisations like the railways and utility companies.
Instead they opted to go along with POL and try to persuade their members to adapt or die. Turkeys voting for Xmas is an often used expression when referring to SPMRs and NT. That expression though is misused. SPMRs never voted for it and were never given the opportunity to vote for it. G&M relied instead on NFSP conference support to show they had a mandate to continue supporting POL and NT. Here I could go into a dialogue on the NFSP conference, the attendees and what this annual paid for outing means to them. It would be a long story but for those of you who have attended conferences in the past, or organised them as I have done, you will know that ensuring your attendance at next year’s conference by not saying anything contradictory or voting against the EC is a major factor in what gets decided at conferences.
Subpostmasters though managed to express their opinion on NT very early on in the process by virtue of POL’s online survey of Subpostmasters taken in Early 2012.
About 9500 subpostmasters were asked to submit their choices for NT:
ONLY 5400 (57%) replied ! Now given the choices in the survey any reasonable person would have to assume that the 43% who didn’t respond clearly did not want to engage with NT.
2380 out of 5400 (44%) wanted to stay as they were. So in total 2380 + 4100 = 6480 out of 9500 (68%) did not want NT.
Of the remainder 38% (2052) said they were interested in signing a new contract. Not surprising really as by the time of the survey the new Commission Rates for Transactions under the New Mains contracts had been revealed and presumably the vast majority of these respondents had worked out that they would be better off under NT (I have written elsewhere on this blog about how some branches are now actually being paid more than they were pre NT- some cost cutting exercise??)
It should be totally beyond belief (but sadly isn’t) that the NFSP in light of these statistics continued to support POL’s NT program. I could now also write about the amount of money that started coming the NFSPs way from POL to ‘support’ NT. Without these payments the NFSP would have been in severe financial difficulty. It also became clear to NFSP that the new operators had no desire to be part of the NFSP organisation and as traditional offices were replaced by conversions the NFSP membership numbers – and therefore subscription income – started to decline.
So in stepped POL – and on Thursday they will enter into an agreement with the NFSP to support them financially over the next 15 years. In return G&M must support POL otherwise they run the risk of losing their jobs. The last vestiges of NFSP independence from POL will have disappeared George and Mervyn no longer serve any useful purpose to their members. it seems POL, as I mentioned earlier, had reached this conclusion many years ago.
PS over the years I have been receiving confidential copies of NFSP EC minutes. They record in astonishing detail secret discussions surrounding NT with POL. Many paragraphs are highlighted in Pink which indicates NOT TO BE REVEALED OR DISCUSSED WITH MEMBERS! If their members had only known ………….