Town deserves to keep its first class post office service

Date: Monday 25th February 2019

AS a regular customer of Penrith crown post office I am appalled at the proposal to franchise it — it is a much-loved public asset — to WHSmith, rated the worst retailer in Which? 2018 survey.

This would result in a dramatic deterioration of service, the loss of a prime hub of our community and mean the loss of local, well-paid quality jobs.

The WHSmith franchise proposes only a single counter position (there are five at present) and just two “open plan” positions, which have been turned into self- service tills at other stores.

We can expect the same poor service in Penrith, resulting in longer queueing times and infinitely inferior customer service and advice. All with the knock-on effect of greater queues in the Burrowgate post office too.

In our Crown Square office we have a designed-for-the-purpose, accessible public building, flooded with natural light, plenty of space for all public users, with desk space and seating. The contrast with a poky, dark store crammed with merchandise could not be greater.

A WHSmith franchise will result in poorer disabled access and the longer queues will disproportionately affect the elderly and infirm — but the inferior service and loss of a community space will affect us all.

This will include local businesses that will see a reduction in footfall. They, and local residents, are already suffering from the empty units in New Squares.

The franchise will mean the loss of experienced, skilled staff who have built up good relationships with their customers over years. On countless occasions I’ve been impressed by their patience, diligence and goodwill, meeting all inquiries with know-how and an evident commitment to the public.

Readers should know that only a handful of the hundreds of crown PO staff already affected by closures have stayed to keep their pay and conditions. Our town deserves to keep its well-paid jobs and not see them downgraded into minimum wage, short-term options with an unpopular retailer whose future on the high street is less than certain.

The proposed franchise would be a shocking waste of public money. It means throwing away a service which has been an integral part of our lives for decades.

I urge Herald readers to do whatever they can to have their say on this proposal, including at the “customer forum” (venue and date have still not yet been made public at the time of writing) and to press for a plan for growth in Penrith which places the quality of public service and new services, such as a post bank, as the priority for our precious crown post office.

NICOLA HAWKINS

By email