What now for Post Office Ltd?
The warning signs have been ignored. The ‘told you sos’ have been proved correct. Post Office Ltd is imploding fast as the consequences of their failure to reshape the network with the aid of a £2 billion investment from government are becoming ever more obvious and public. Now 600 more workers face redundancy because of the complete lack of commercial astuteness at the top of POL whose only desire is to preserve their jobs and more to the point there bonuses.
The key word above is ‘their’. Who are these people that control the network? Why do they remain unaccountable for the miserable failure of their actions?
During the Postal Services Bill debate in the House of Lords, Lord Mandelson correctly, in my opinion, identified the Post Office as just another Government Department. I understood him to infer that it was a bureaucratic nightmare, filled with employees devoid of any commercial sense and steeped in historical traditions. Up here in the Borders we have a saying ‘aye been’. Its ‘aye been’ done like that so no need to change. I couldn’t describe the cause of the mess that is now POL better.
So back to them. This is not just about POL management; it is about the Civil Servants that ultimately control POL through Government ownership. They have an incestuous relationship with much mutual backslapping and bonuses and high salaries paid on the back of unchallenged performance statistics supplied by themselves. Their unaccountability is unrivalled, for who is to challenge what they report as being the truth? The National Audit Office? Forget it. I have repeatedly asked the NAO to get involved and they repeatedly state it has nothing to do with them.
The one and only scrutineer it appears is the BIS Select Committee that has strangely gone deathly quiet on the matter since the last election when the only person who seemed ready to take on POL, the BIS Select Committee chairman, Adrian Bailey was replaced.
Unaccountability though leads to complacency. The feeling that they cannot be touched leads also to arrogance. Complacency and arrogance are particularly misplaced in an organisation filled with so many incompetent employees. Implosion is inevitable and I believe it has now started. The supernova that is POL will be a disaster for the government and the sad fact is that it is now certain to happen, whether through financial mismanagement or criminal investigation as I have written about previously.
Can the network be saved?
The answer to that is another question. Does the British Public want the network to be saved? Do they want to see a Post Office on the High Street in urban areas or as the cornerstone of the rural community?
My guess is that the answer is yes and therefore it becomes politically expedient for the party in government to offer a feasible and viable solution. Well the conservatives inherited the current ‘solution’ from the lib dems during their ‘dangerous liaison’. They would need to swallow a great deal of pride (and failed financial investment) to change course now. The Labour party on the other hand is in a great position to come up with a radical solution to the problem that would, in my opinion, be a significant vote winner – particularly when one realises the difficulties POL will face between now and the next election. The Tories would find it extremely difficult to criticise such an alternative plan faced with their own ignominious failure to save the network.
It won’t be easy to come up with one that meets the requirements of all concerned. When I first started proposing a split of the network into rural and urban, with two different management teams and two different set of objectives, I was taken aback by the sheer number of ‘ruralesque’ quangos filled with well meaning souls who felt they also had the answer to the problems of rural commerce. Getting them all aboard would be particularly difficult.
But let’s look at the urban network very quickly. The majority of these are privately owned. According to POL many of them actually make a profit for POL but the one thing that so many overlook is that whether or not they make a profit for POL they continue to make a profit for the business owner. Except of course when the owner is POL themselves. The Crown Office chain continually makes a loss and despite what they tell us, the Crown Office losses have not been eradicated and never will be. This set of circumstances is the biggest, most obvious indicator, that POL Management are commercially incompetent.
The whole concept of NT was for Post Office operators to embrace the retail aspect of their operation and to enhance their sales with the increase in footfall that having a Post Office in their shop brings. POL has even the temerity to suggest that they can provide expert advice in these matters despite their own abject failure to embrace their own concept within Crown Offices. The retail offering in these magnificent anachronistic High St edifices is completely missing and to make matters worse they have recently offered a multi million pound contract to external ‘experts’ to try and enhance what they already (don’t) do.
The answer to the Crown problems is in my opinion readily visible to all bar the incompetent POL management team. It is time for commercially astute Subpostmasters to be put in charge. They already run some of the most profitable Post Office in the country. They know how to promote their retail offering and they have a vested financial interest in the success of their business.
As a collective, or co-operative, the Crown network has the opportunity to become a major retail chain, perhaps specialising in the retail offering that thousands of past and present subpostmasters have taken on board, Greeting Cards and Stationery. There are many more commercial opportunities though but it takes an entrepreneur to spot them and make them work. The term ‘entrepreneur’ is sadly missing from the CV’s of POL Management.
But they would require some help. There is no doubt that the viability of all High St retail outlets is in the hands of the property owner. High rentals are a fact of life and whilst there is competition for vacant leases then these will continue. The only practical solution to ensure survival in key locations is to purchase the freehold of these properties and that is where I for one would focus future investment in the network.
Who will take action and when?
Perhaps the greatest catalyst to answer these questions will be the court action of the JFSA group. They are going to win. The public will be incensed and in my opinion criminal charges will be laid against much of, if not all, the POL management team, past and present.
The incestuous links between the civil servants and POL must be broken. I am not sure how this will be done but the government must be seen to take action and full scale change at the top of POL has to be effected. Perhaps Royal Mail has a role to play in this corrective action. Consider if you will what the network would look like now if the Royal Mail had had to take POL with it when they split? A very intriguing thought and one I would very much like to hear Ms Greene’s thoughts on.
They would not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will