Anger is building in Uckfield after bosses announced the town’s landmark post office building could close.
Last week the Post Office stated it was looking for a ‘retail partner’ in Uckfield. This means that instead of calling into a dedicated building, people needing post office services would have to find them at a counter in a shop elsewhere in the town.
Uckfield’s existing Post Office is one of the firm’s 373 Crown branches – major High Street outlets it runs directly. It claims these closures are part of a ‘transformation’ programme in which no branch would be forced to close but will instead operate from a store.
Uckfield town councillor Alan Whittaker said: “This decision is a bit like transport – they both started out as ‘services’ but now it’s clear both are to be run purely to make a profit and the customer comes a poor second. People as individuals with individual needs are ignored.”
But a Post Office press spokesman told the Express that if no retail partner is found the organisation is still committed to having a post office within the area: “This is not a closure programme.”
Customers outside the post office were concerned. Doug Greenalgh from Framfield said: “It was a nightmare when we couldn’t get to our own post office because the road was dug up.
“If this office shuts we’re going to have to cram into some shop or other and you can bet the queues will be out of the door. There won’t be any space and probably only one counter assistant as well.”
The company’s statement went on:”We are currently undertaking the biggest business transformation programme in the history of the Post Office. Our investment will maintain the size of the network and modernise branches to meet customer needs.
“Crown branches are a fundamental part of our long term growth strategy and need to be brought into profit. To maintain our high street presence we will be looking to find retail partners for 70 of our branches, enabling us to stay in these locations.
“The Post Office successfully works with many retail partners. We already have over 3,000 branches across the UK where customers are accessing services in this way. If no retail partner is found we are still committed to having a Crown Post Office within the area. There are no compulsory redundancies planned as part of this strategy.”
The Crown closures are the latest of half-a-dozen initiatives in recent years although the word ‘closure’ is never used. One saw Heathfield’s post offices reduced from two to one and sub post offices shutting their doors in towns and villages.
Cllr Whittaker went on: “Profits have been put before people again – these are services essential for a lot of other reasons. It’s like buses. Once they went where you wanted to go. Now we see just ‘routes’.”
The Communication Workers’ Union has criticised ‘destructive’ schemes. Spokeswoman Sian Jones said: “There are no plans to help offices after 2015.”
The Union plans to ballot members on possible strike action later this month to fight Crown closures.