Five years on and two billion pounds later what effect has Network Transformation had on the Post Office network?
When this question is asked, in various shapes and guises in the Houses of Parliament, the government spokesman refers the question to the responsible civil servant in order that they may prepare an answer. This civil servant, whoever they may be, has probably never entered a post office in their life and more to the point has never run a commercial enterprise. So the civil servant asks Post Office management, “How are you doing?”. The Post Office replies, “ Very well thank you, we are nearly making a profit don’t you know and everything is hunky dory”. The civil servant now replies to the Government spokesman in words that I can now recant verbatim without having to look them up. The post office network has never been more stable they say. More than 200,000 extra opening hours a week and the Post Office is now the largest retailer open on a Sunday. The government has invested over £2 billion pounds in the network over the last few years….. blah blah blah.
The trouble starts with the original question. It is directed at the wrong person. The question should be put to a critic like me or like Mark Baker or Dave Ward and we can respond with the truth not propaganda. When enough parliamentarians start understanding that the actual state of the network is perilously close to disintegration and that the critics have been proved correct right from the start of this ill fated project then perhaps they can force the government to investigate for themselves the mess they have made of this.
A recent freedom of information request gives us the latest statistics:
11,633 Post Offices in the Network
3,319 Main Post Offices in the Network
3,363 Local Post Offices in the Network
These are the ‘open’ branches. 5,000 (less the remaining Crown offices) remain unconverted after the £2b investment.
POL say that they have met their targets and awarded themselves bonuses as a result. Trouble is the original targets were never met. They were changed when they realized they would never meet them.
The remaining 5,000 offices – no matter how it is split between ‘last shop in the village / community’ offices and unconverted – is a key indicator that the project has failed. These unconverted offices have had 6 years to find a nearby outlet that was willing and able to take on a Post Office franchise and they can’t. They can’t because nobody wants the hassle and extra work involved only to be paid peanuts and be treated like a monkey. These words have recently been repeated by a multiple who are now considering removing Post Offices from their stores. What better example do you need that a key component of the original strategy of Network Transformation has failed; namely securing a sustainable network.
The network is no longer sustainable because the number of offices affected by the fact that nobody wants them is growing not shrinking and will continue to grow at a faster rate. The only resistance at this point is community action where the local post office is ‘saved’ by either local community effort or the commendable efforts of local businesses taking on the hassle of running a post office purely for the sake of the community and not recompense.
Two billion pounds of tax payers money down the tubes already and the incompetents who misspent it are not only still in charge but they want more. Two billion pound spent and the network still relies on outdated and unreliable technology. While there may be plans to replace the current infrastructure there certainly is no money left in the kitty to do so even though a significant portion of the original £1.35b investment was earmarked for technology.
A great proportion of the network of branches that remains is no longer fit for purpose. For several years now only an idiot would have taken on a Post Office franchise and as it turns out POL managed to find several thousand of them. These new franchisees are not in the same league as subpostmasters of old who worked for the good of the Post Office not necessarily themselves and were reasonably rewarded for their efforts. Even POL admits that. The only relevance left for the remainder of the Crown network is to keep in house well paid and well trained staff who can test and roll out new products. That is a task not best left to the foundering franchisees.
Members of parliament, from all sides, need to wake up to the fact that all is not well with POL. They cannot rely on them for anything other than self adulation. The network is now in terminal decline and its purpose in our communities may well be lost forever. Leaving the idiots that have brought about this situation in charge is their responsibility and the only and easiest solution I can offer at this time is to have them replaced by the people who care and who know more about the network than any others – the subpostmasters, many of whom have left the network but remain concerned for the institution they loved to work for and would be willing to do so again.