Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, and Shetland MSP, Beatrice Wishart, have published their submission to the Post Office consultation on proposed changes to the Lerwick branch. The letter outlines a range of constituent concerns relating to the proposed move to a retail partner site, and calls for a full and open consultation, with guarantees on the future quality of the service.
Commenting, Mr. Carmichael said:
“We’ve tried to give the benefit of the doubt to the Post Office, but it is clear that there are serious procedural flaws in the way that they have handled the proposal to close the Post Office and to relocate it to a shop. There is a deep and growing concern in the community about the impact of these proposed changes. People are understandably frustrated at what appears to be an attempt to impose an unwanted change on Lerwick.
“It is no good holding a consultation when at every step of the way you tell the public that the decision is already made and that it can’t be changed. Post Office leadership should remember that this is a publicly-owned service. It must be accountable to the community.”
Ms. Wishart said:
“The Post Office plans are a substantial change that will affect users across Shetland, not just in Lerwick. The current location has important benefits for customer privacy and access that must not be compromised.”
"The lack of proper consultation is not respectful to the staff involved or service users. The Post Office needs to pause to allow proper time for community scrutiny.”
Lerwick Post Office – Consultation
16th October 2019
Alistair Carmichael MP, Beatrice Wishart MSP
We call on the Post Office to launch a true, open consultation on the closure of the independent Branch Office at 46 Commercial St, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0EH, and the proposed move to a new location with a retail partner.
Above all, it is essential that there are cast-iron guarantees that any changes to the Post Office infrastructure in Lerwick will not lead to a lower quality service in the long term.
The most immediate concern is that the Post Office decided to close the main branch and then consult only on its replacement. Our understanding is that the first that local staff knew about the closure was when the area manager attended a staff training session on 10 September, stating that the Branch Office would be closing and moving to Conochies. This suggests that the changes being proposed are intended as a fait accompli with no meaningful input from the community taken into consideration.
It is important to note that making major changes to a keystone service impacts everyone in the community, in Lerwick and the rest of Shetland. This is far more than a simple commercial decision and it should not be imposed before a genuine community consultation.
It also appears that the Post Office awarded the retail partnership with limited public input. While we have been told that the retail partnership was advertised, it is not clear what the bidding process was. The fact that virtually no-one appears to know that the partnership tender was advertised suggests that the news was not widely distributed, and we have no information on where the news was shared. This again undermines the transparency of the decision-making process.
The full plans for the change were only released in October, when the online survey on the plans was launched in September. This made it impossible for Shetlanders to give a fully informed response to the survey at the time when they were most likely to respond.
Moving to practical concerns, there are indications that the space in the new Office may not be sufficient for the needs of a fully functional Post Office branch. There are significant concerns about the space to fit three working positions alongside Post Office safes, while still having inside queuing areas for customers. Conochies has limited space, especially at Christmas. The present office has a room where customers can go to discuss private transactions, and it is not clear if the new facilities will include this.
There have also been comments by Post Office employees that this will lead to the removal of Royal Mail facilities to another location. This contradicts assurances given by Royal Mail and threatens to undermine the quality of the service given.
It also appears that the proposed location on Commercial Street is not fully accessible for people with limited mobility. Blue Badge holders would have to park outside the door and then carry on along Commercial Street. This would increase the traffic in a pedestrian area which could become dangerous. The present office has several short term and disabled parking bays directly outside to mitigate such issues and it is not clear if the new facilities will include this. Any part of changing the Post Office service in the 21st century must take accessibility into consideration.
Finally, aside from the impact on the community, there will be significant impact on Post Office staff. We understand that staff have been told that TUPE rules protecting their pay and conditions will apply, but it is unclear how long this will be the case. A branch change should not be used as an excuse to undermine staff conditions.
With the above points taken into consideration, we hope that the Post Office will launch a full consultation into not just the commercial site move, but the entire plan to close the existing independent branch office. The planned changes will have wide-ranging consequences for Lerwick and Shetland as a whole, and we request that the Post Office make a full commitment, whatever the outcome of the consultation, to ensuring the same level of access and service for Shetlanders to the Post Office services in the future.
Alistair Carmichael MP Beatrice Wishart MSP