Post Office Network Transformation – Wrong from the start…
I believe a book is being written about the problems within the Post Office. This could well be a chapter in its own right. I understand that the majority of readers of this blog have a close connection with the Post Office and therefore understand the background to what I am about to point out. It should have been ‘bleedin obvious’, to use the vernacular, to all concerned and that, dear reader, probably gives us the best insight we have into the complete lack of commercial acumen within the upper levels of POL management.
There were, and still remain, many good points about NT which sadly keep getting rolled out to hide the mess underneath; a mess of POL’s own creation I might add. The fact is though that right from the start it was doomed….
Let me take the Main Post Office concept as an example. In 2010 news broke of the Network Transformation project. Details were sketchy and even the NFSP had a problem keeping up with what seemed like daily changes to the scheme. So when it became clear that only 3000 or so Sub Post Office would become the chosen few every SPMR wanted to know is they were to be one or not. Investment into the branch coupled with increased Transaction related pay seemed liked a good idea as well as the prospect of increased value of the business. To that end, and to answer these SPMRs a list was produced for POL people so they would know which branches were the chosen ones. George Thomson, General Secretary of the NFSP, admitted to me at the time that the list existed but Freedom of Information requests to see this list were denied. Why the secrecy?
So even if you were one of the chosen ones you had no way of finding out other than to apply the general rules for being selected and that was to do with footfall and demographics. You might have had a rough idea but couldn’t be certain so for several months SPMRs were in the dark as to their future.
Now you have to remember that NT was a cost cutting exercise. In order to justify the £1.35 Billion POL had to show that the overall effect would be a reduction in payments made to SPMRs. The 3000 ‘chosen ones’ selected for Mains would lose their monthly fixed Core Tier Payment in return for higher transaction related pay (TRPs). Let us suppose, in a very conservative fashion, that POL decided that for the Mains at least the overall effect of the move to TRP only pay would be cost neutral. That is for the 3000, what they received before is what they would get after. All well and good you might say but not quite. This was to be a voluntary program after all and a voluntary program can only work with willing volunteers.
Which brings me to another list. This was the list of enhanced TRPs that the new Mains would receive. It was extremely confidential. No one knew what was on it although some examples were leaked by POL as a ‘little teaser’… Really? So why did they not want the prospective mains post offices to know the numbers? Well fairly obvious really. If the nett effect was to be cost neutral then out of the 3000 selected offices there had to be a mixture of winners and losers. Clearly the losers weren’t going to convert in a hurry but the winners would be trying to get on board as soon as possible. Most importantly though POL needed the NFSP to convince their members that NT was the way to go, that there was no plan B, that their investments would be lost without it. Trying to convince an SPMR that the way forward is for their neighbouring Post Office to make more money while you make less wasn’t going to hold water. With hindsight of course the NFSP at least got two parts of their forecast right. There is no plan B (currently) and most remaining SPMRs have lost a significant part of their investments if not all.
Back to the mysterious TRP list. I got my hands on a copy and at an appropriate moment in reply to a post on the NFSP forum from an Executive Council member I published the list in full. George Thomson was outraged. He didn’t just delete the post, he shut the whole forum down as it was becoming increasingly obvious that the ‘scaremongerers’ as we were labelled had rumbled what was going on and what was going to happen. Not many got to see a copy of those TRPs but those that did reported mixed fortunes. Some were going to make a lot more as a Main while others stood to lose a lot and clearly were not going to engage with NT voluntarily.
This action by Thomson is a clear indication in my opinion that he knew what the problem with NT was – he must have been told by POL because I don’t think he is capable of working out these things himself – and that if the TRPs were leaked on a grand scale he would never be able to convince his members to back it.
So NT got going and Lo and Behold the very first offices to convert to Mains were ones that were going to make more money. You should be aware that as part of the ‘selling’ of NT, Field Change Advisors (who had no idea how to run a Post Office) showed the prospect what he would earn after NT based using the new TRPs. This practice was dropped later and instead prospects were advised of the increase in sales due to additional footfall as well as cost efficiencies of having a Horizon terminal at their retail counter.
Initial converts were happy and of course were eager to tell everyone what a success their transformation was. POL were exuberant. They were spending lots of the £1.35b, they were converting their target Post Offices – not quite on schedule but close enough to convince the Civil Servants that they were doing a grand job – and the payment to SPMRs was increasing!
Now several years later and without going into detail NT has failed completely. The effect on SPMR commission has in fact been cost neutral for the Mains and no great savings have been made. Now POL’s only alternative (a plan B?) is to reduce the TRPs considerably and they are going to find great difficulty in doing that unopposed. The breaking strain has been reached already with offices just closing their doors as a result of the poor compensation for difficult and tiresome interaction with the bureaucratic nonsense of POL. This remains a problem that POL don’t understand but which was pointed out repeatedly at the onset of NT. When a new style PO gets shown the door by an operator which local businessman in their right minds is going to take it on without finding out why it was thrown out in the first place?
So if you are interested in talking to your MP about this, show them this blog. Ask them to ask the Business Secretary why those TRPs were not published initially. Why was the NFSP forum closed down when they were published on there? What wasn’t the list of prospective Mains Offices not revealed in Freedom of Information requests? How much money did they say they would save and how much have they? Get them to ask who POL are accountable to although I know the answer – nobody.