The petition of residents of Solihull,
Declares that local residents have concerns over the proposed closure and relocation of Solihull Post Office, Mell Square.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Post Office to re-consider the closure of the Solihull Post Office in Mell Square due to its size and accessibility.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Julian Knight , Official Report, 6 March 2019; Vol. 655, c. 1060 .]
Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kelly Tolhurst):
The Government value and recognise the important role that the Post Office plays in communities such as Solihull and across the UK. That is why we committed in our 2017 manifesto to safeguarding the Post Office network and protect existing rural services. Since 2010, the number of branches in the network has been at its most stable for decades, at over 11,500.
While the Post Office is publicly owned, it is a commercial business. The Government set the strategic direction for the Post Office - to maintain a national network accessible to all and to do so more sustainably for the taxpayer - and allow the company the commercial freedom to deliver this strategy as an independent business.
The Post Office’s proposals to franchise or host Crown branches, including the Solihull branch, are part of its plans to ensure a sustainable network in the face of challenging trading conditions in the Post Office’s core market and the wider retail sector. In fact, moving Crown post offices to retail partners has helped reduce losses in this part of the network from £46 million per year in 2012 to break-even today. Working with a retail partner is a sensible response to the challenges facing High Street retailers, enabling shared costs across the combined businesses, with the franchise partner benefiting from increased footfall and income from Post Office products. Furthermore, in terms of quality of service and access arrangements a recent report by Citizen’s Advice indicates that franchised branches are performing in line with or better than traditional branches.
We understand that changes to Post Office services will be a concern to some local residents of Solihull, but franchising will help retain Post Office services on high streets throughout the country and bring further investment and modernisation for customers.
WHSmith has been successfully operating post offices within its stores since 2017 and currently runs over 130 branches, demonstrating proficiency to run the branch in Solihull. The franchise arrangement will bring extended opening hours and 7-day trading for customers offering a wide range of products and services.
In relation to accessibility, when relocating a branch, the Post office is aware of the needs of its customers, including the most vulnerable. In fact, the Post Office works with the new partner to ensure that Post Office branches meet all relevant legal accessibility requirements, whether branches are directly managed or franchised within WHSmith, and indeed all franchising partners.
The Post Office has a proven track record for going above and beyond to ensure convenient access for all customers, including those with disabilities or mobility issues. In fact, the Post Office now provides accessibility information on the on-line branch finder. The Post Office also invites the local community to submit comments on access as part of a formal consultation process.
Regarding the Post Office’s consultation in Solihull, this ran for 6 weeks and closed on 6 March 2019. This process sought to inform, and gather views from, opinion formers and local stakeholders on the proposed changes to the network and to allow the public to inform the Post Office’s plans for the new branch. The consultation document highlighted that the branch will be moving approximately 70 metres away from its current location, that opening hours will be extended by eight and a half hours per week and will now include Sunday opening. The document also confirmed that the vast majority of products and services available in the Solihull directly managed branch will transfer to the proposed franchising, with the exception of a cash machine. Although the ATM will not transfer, customers can withdraw money from the Post Office counter as part of the agreement with all the major High Street banks.
The Post Office also runs a customer forum to allow the public to speak to them directly This process is in line with the Post Office’s Code of Practice on changes to the network agreed with Citizens Advice. A recent review by the Citizens Advice reported that the Post Office consultation process is increasingly effective, with improvements agreed in most cases, demonstrating that the Post Office listens to the community.
A final decision by Post Office Limited regarding the proposed move of Solihull Post Office has not been made as of yet. However, once all the responses from the consultation have been reviewed and all feedback considered then the community, staff and concerned parties and individuals will be advised on the decision.
The sustainability and future success of the Post Office network continues to remain of the utmost importance to this Government. We recognise the value Post Offices add to or communities, residents, businesses and tourists in all parts of the UK, including Solihull. We will continue to honour our manifesto commitments so that Post Offices’ can thrive and remain at the heart of our rural and urban communities for years to come.