Blackness Post Office – electronic door entry #dundeewestend

Residents have reported concerns that the electronic door entry button at Blackness Post Office, to assist customers with mobility difficulties, is still not working and so I again took this up with Post Office Limited.
 
The company’s External Affairs Manager has responded positively as follows 
 
“Thank you for getting in touch in relation to the door entry button at Blackness Road Post Office. 
 
I have asked the field team to raise this issue with the postmaster. You may know that the vast majority of our post offices are operated by independent agents. As such Post Office ltd is not responsible for the building. 
 
Before we issue a contact which allows agents to provide services, we do insist on certain things such as the building being accessible for people with disabilities. This usually means that the branch needs to be DDA compliant. I don’t believe such a button comes under this legislation. 
 
Therefore whilst we can ask and encourage the postmaster to take action, we unfortunately cannot insist on such action being taken as it doesn’t breach any contractual issues. 
 
That said we will impress on the postmaster the importance of getting this fixed and the inconvenience it is causing customers.”

Blackness Post Office – automated door concern

Residents have brought to my attention concerns that the automated front door at Blackness Post Office has not been working.
 
The electronic door is very helpful for people with mobility difficulties and those using wheelchairs to get into the Post Office, so I wrote to Post Office Limited about the concern raised.
 
I have received the following helpful response from the External Affairs Manager at Post Office Limited :
 
“I have made enquiries about the automatic door mechanism at Blackness Road Post Office.  … The premises and door are the responsibility of the shop owner and  it is up to each individual retailer whether or not  they have an automatic door but, in order that the requirements of the Equality Act are met, Post Office ask that the entrance door, access to the counter and turning spaces for a wheelchair meet our minimum specifications.
 
In this case,  the agent at Blackness Road has advised that since he took over the door has not functioned automatically but he will look into the possibility of having the mechanism repaired.  He has also advised that they are always on hand and happy to help any customer who requires assistance.”

Post Office memorial shrine time capsule opened to the public

From the Curator of Museum Services at the University of Dundee :
 
This Thursday the Great War Dundee partnership will be giving the public the first chance to explore the contents of a unique WW1 time capsule.
 
Many of you will have seen the media coverage when we opened the time capsule created by Post Office workers in Dundee at the end of the Great War. The creators of the shrine had instructed that it should be opened by the Postmaster in the presence of the Lord Provost on 4 August 2014.    The event took place in City Chambers in front of an invited audience including Post Office and Royal Mail staff and relatives of postal workers of the time, and since then a selection of its contents have been on display at The McManus: Dundee’s Museum & Art Gallery.
 
Two public sessions have now been organised as part of the Great War Dundee partnership’s programme of events, allowing a detailed look at some of the letters, photographs and documents contained in the shrine. Invited guests will be reading extracts from the letters, which include letters sent home by soldiers at the front, a letter from the Lord Provost of 1921 to his 2014 successor, and the fascinating glimpse of life at the end of the war provided by telegraphist Annie K Lamont. University museum curator Matthew Jarron will be introducing the contents, and historians Billy Kenefick and Derek Patrick will also be on hand to explain the historical context and answer questions.
 
The two sessions will take place at the McManus Collections Unit in Barrack Street on Thursday 9th October and Thursday 16th October between 10-12pm. The sessions are free but booking is essential. Call McManus Reception on 01382 307200 to book. 
 
The Great War Dundee partnership includes community leaders, academics, historians, museum curators, archivists, librarians, artists, media representatives, education specialists and members of the public. Among the institutions and groups represented are Dundee City Council (including its Archives Service and Education department), Leisure & Culture Dundee (which includes Dundee Library and Information Service and The McManus), the University of Dundee (including its archives, museums, School of Humanities, Botanic Garden and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design), the Unicorn Preservation Society, Dundee Heritage Trust, DC Thomson & Co Ltd, The Black Watch Museum & Castle and the Western Front Association (Tayside Branch).

Request for temporary Perth Road Post Office arrangements : an update

Further to the recent request made by myself and the City Council’s Chief Executive to Post Office Limited about the possibility of temporary facility in Perth Road during the September closure period when modernisation work is being carried out at the Perth Road Post Office Branch, I spoke with the Post Office’s Stakeholder Manager for Scotland last Friday about this and was advised yesterday as follows :

Thank you for your time on the phone on Friday.

I appreciate your concerns regarding Perth Road Post Office closure for refurbishment and would like to assure you that we have made every effort to keep the closure period at Perth Road to an absolute minimum considering the amount of refurbishment work to be carried out.  As discussed, there are alternative Post Office branches which can be accessed within a reasonable distance of Perth Road branch therefore in this case a temporary service would not be a possibility.  A temporary service is normally set up when there is to be a prolonged closure of a branch or if the nearest alternative branch is a considerable distance away and takes quite some time to implement.

The planned refurbishments will result in a much improved customer experience with longer opening hours and a new more modern branch. The aim of our modernisation programme is to enable the Post Office to invest in and ensure the long term sustainability of the current branch network and I am sure this investment and subsequent improvement in Perth Rd branch will be welcomed by our customers.

We do understand that there may be some elderly or less able customers who may be more inconvenienced than others while the branch is closed and we apologise for any inconvenience which may be experienced however we do notify customers in advance of the closure in order to allow them to make alternative arrangements during this period.

The Post Office Website www.postoffice.co.uk provides information on products and services which may be helpful for customers.

I have responded as follows :

…whilst the modernisation is excellent news, it is disappointing that there will be no temporary service given the number of elderly people who will find the distance to alternative Post Offices a challenge.   

The City Council did provide a temporary library service in a nearby church hall when a similar situation affected the local library last year and its is therefore disappointing that Post Office Limited could not consider this.

Request for temporary Perth Road Post Office arrangements

Further to the good news of the extensive refurbishment and modernisation of Perth Road Post Office, both the Dundee City Council Chief Executive David Dorward and I have written to Post Office limited to request they consider a temporary facility during the September closure period when work is being carried out.
 
There are many elderly and infirm residents nearby including folk from four sheltered housing complexes for whom a visit to Blackness Road or Meadowside – the alternative Post Offices cited by Post Office Limited – would be a real challenge.   
 
During the Blackness Library refurbishment last year, the City Council had a temporary arrangement at Logie St John’s (Cross) Church.   There are actually several possible sites for a limited temporary Post Office service and I would like Post Office Limited to consider this for the closure period of 8th to 19th September.
 
Mr Dorward’s letter to Post Office Limited indicates :
 
‘The Council welcomes your plans to modernise and extend the opening hours of the post office  branch at Perth Road.
 
However, one of our elected members has suggested that it would be good if you could consider providing a temporary limited facility in the area while the branch is closed for refurbishment. 
 
There are many elderly and infirm residents nearby, including the residents of 4 sheltered housing complexes, for whom a visit to the Blackness Road or Meadowside branches would be a real challenge.  There would have been a closer alternative, but the branch at Nethergate was closed in the last round of post office closures.’
 
I am to be discussing the request further with Post Office Limited’s Senior Stakeholder Manager  for the area next week.

Welcome news for Perth Road Post Office

I have welcomed news of a substantial refurbishment by Post Office Limited of the Perth Road Post Office that will result in a new, ultra modern design and further welcomed news that the refurbished Post Office in Perth Road will open on Saturday afternoons in future, in addition to its current opening days and times.
 
I am very pleased at the investment in Perth Road Post Office which confirms its great performance and service to the community.    The additional opening hours on Saturday are also a welcome improvement, particularly for working families who can struggle to get to the Post Office on weekdays.    
 
Given the recent unfortunate closure of the Perth Road Royal Bank of Scotland Branch, the Post Office is now available for RBS personal customers for many banking transactions in addition to post office transactions, so improving the Post Office Branch is a very positive move.
 
The Perth Road Post Office will be closed for refurbishment from 8th September at noon, with the newly refurbished Post Office reopening at 1pm on Friday 19th September.    During the refurbishment, the Blackness Road Post Office will be open for Perth Road customers, as will the main Dundee Post Office in Meadowside.

Blackness Post Office – an update

I have expressed the hope that a new sub-postmaster will come forward to take over the Blackness Road Post Office as, thus far, Post Office Limited has indicated there has been no formal interest in taking over the post office.  This follows the announcement in May that the current sub-postmaster, Mr Abdul Bhimani, has indicated a wish to retire.
 
Post Office Limited has indicated to me :
 
“I have been advised that the Blackness Road branch is currently being advertised as a Post Office Local.    This is because the existing Sub-postmaster has indicated that he wishes to leave the business under our Network Transformation Programme.    The Sub-postmaster has not resigned and will remain in post until the position is filled.     I can also confirm that to date there has currently not been any interest shown in this position.    Unfortunately, I am not in a position to confirm if the service will remain in the Blackness Road premises if changes were to be made.”
 
I understand that one local property developer had given some thought to taking over the service, possibly from a new location in the area.     I am extremely anxious that a new sub-postmaster is found to ensure that there is still a Blackness Post Office after Mr Bhimani retires.   This is a very well-used post office and an important facility in the Blackness area.

Jobcentre Plus “outreach” proposal

The suggestion by Danny Alexander MP that public buildings such as libraries should be considered for use as outreach services for Jobcentre Plus appears to me to make a whole lot of sense. (See http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Library-39outreach39-proposal-for-Jobcentres.4840598.jp to read the story in today’s Scotsman).

 

He points out that there is no reason that Jobcentre Plus services cannot be provided in places such as community centres and council buildings.

 

The 2004 Government Spending Review announced an efficiency savings programme which planned to reduce the numbers of Jobcentre Plus staff by around 14 per cent and lead to dramatic changes in the way Jobcentre Plus delivered its services

The new standard operating model for claiming benefits introduced the telephone as the main route for applying for and contacting Jobcentre Plus about benefit claims. Benefit processing was centralised into a smaller number of large processing centres, resulting in reduced face to face service for claimants in local offices. Citizens Advice’s evidence on the new system for claiming benefits from Jobcentre Plus said,

 

“The most vulnerable claimants, homeless people and those with mental health, learning or other disabilities have suffered the worst as local office support has decreased and alternatives to phone contact have been refused.” (See http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/policy_campaign_publications/evidence_reports/er_benefitsandtaxcredits/er_not_getting_through to view the full report).

 

Although, in November, the government decided to abandon plans to close more Jobcentre Plus offices, the “outreach” proposal would help to plug gaps in the Jobcentre Plus network – it should be remembered that the ‘rationalisation programme’ was handled in a haphazard ill-conceived fashion.

 

In my view, consideration should also be given to having some Jobcentre Plus services and advice surgeries at suitable local Post Offices. During the unsuccessful campaign to try to save four Dundee Post Offices last year, many of us made the point that having additional services at local Post Offices would help secure their future. Having some Jobcentre Plus services at sub post offices would not only achieve this, but would also make job centre services more readily available and plug some of the gaps in the service.

Post Offices – queuing concerns

Yesterday’s ‘Courier’ covered my concerns about the deterimental effect on queuing at the GPO following the closure of 4 Dundee Post Offices, including those at Lochee Road and Nethergate.    See http://www.thecourier.co.uk/output/2008/11/01/newsstory12183144t0.asp to view.

 

Early yesterday morning, I got a call from a lady in the Paton’s Lane area to complain that she had had to wait 45 minutes in the queue at Perth Road Post Office last week. You are not trying to tell me that Post Office Limited properly researched the effects of their Post Office closures on adjacent Post Offices!

 

Here’s the news release I issued about the issue :

 

NEWS RELEASE : Councillor slams Post Office Limited over erroneous claims about Post Offices

Dundee City Councillor for the West End, Cllr Fraser Macpherson, today said he has written to Adam Crozier, Chief Executive of Post Office Limited, criticising ‘completely misleading assurances’ that the Dundee’s General Post Office had the capacity to deal with increased customers as a result of Post Office Limited’s recent closure of four other Dundee Post Offices and calling for the Post Office’s evidence that customer waiting times would not be detrimentally affected to be made public.

Cllr Macpherson was reacting to constituents’ complaints about the length of waiting time in the GPO during peak hours. Cllr Macpherson said, “The staff at the GPO do an excellent job but the bottom line is that the Post Office’s assurances that closing Post Offices in Nethergate and Lochee Road would not result in longer waiting times at Ward Road has been shown to be false. It appears that increased staffing at peak times has not been provided – no-one should have to wait the length of time constituents are rightly complaining about.

“Dundee City Council has recently been advised by Consumer Focus, the successor to Post Office watchdog Postwatch, that Post Office Limited “submitted a detailed action plan … demonstrating how the alternative branches would cope with an influx in custom” and I think its about time that this so-called ‘evidence’ was publicly available, because it is clear from what has actually happened since the Post Office closures, that there are increased waiting times at the GPO. Post Office Limited gave us assurances that this wouldn’t happen but the reality is that it has. I want to know what the Chief Executive of Post Office Limited is going to do to ensure that customer waiting times at peak hours are improved. Constituents have complained about 25-35 minutes waiting time, which is completely unacceptable.”

Cllr Macpherson said that the City Council had written to Postwatch to attempt to stop the Post Office closures, as Postwatch had powers in terms of a Memorandum of Understanding with Post Office Limited allowing it to request a suspension of closures where Post Office Limited had not fully considered all evidence presented against a proposed closure. The City Council had made clear that there had not been transparency from Post Office Limited on whether or not it fully considered the information on potential for customer growth at one Post Office – Nethergate -and in light of that, a suspension of the closure should have been sought by Postwatch.

Cllr Macpherson continued, “The City Council sought a review of the consultation exercise and also a fuller statement of reasons from Post Office Limited that properly addressed the substance of the relevant and material issues raised by the Council’s representation. Unfortunately, Consumer Focus, the successor to Postwatch, has been unwilling to do this because it says ‘We are reassured that with appropriate staffing … the alternative post offices can accommodate the anticipated additional customers.’ The assurances given to Consumer Focus have proved to be pretty worthless – the lengthy waiting times are proof of this – and it is extremely disappointing that the so-called “Post Office Watchdog” has proved to be so toothless in reality.

“By being unwilling to act to suspend Post Office closures, Consumer Focus is failing to protect customers from increased waiting times.”

Cllr Macpherson said that, following the feedback from Consumer Focus received by the City Council, he has met with Council legal officers to see if separate legal action by the Council should be pursued, but, having reviewed the legal position, the Council’s solicitors have advised that this would be unlikely to bear fruit, in part because of the lack of supportiveness by the watchdog but also, specifically, given the situation that the Post Office, once part of the public sector, has been recreated by Government as a limited company, rendering it highly unlikely that any judicial review of its closure decisions would succeed.

Cllr Macpherson continued, “The Council’s legal officers have reviewed other legal attempts to stop Post Office closures, including an attempt by the Greater London Authority and the London Mayor, and concluded that there were no reasonable prospects of successfully challenging these decisions. The whole consultation process lacked transparency and Post Office Limited has given assurances to Postwatch’s successor that have been shown to be inaccurate.

“I have therefore contacted the Chief Executive of Post Office Limited asking what steps he will be taking to ensure waiting times at the GPO are cut to be satisfactory at all times of opening. I think that is the least we can reasonably expect from Post Office Limited, especially given the complaints from the Dundee public about waiting for around half an hour to be served.”

 

 

Busy Monday!

A busy day Monday and apart from an awful lot of day job work starting very early morning – I have a large conference to organise coming up fast! – it included the following :

* Interview with Wave 102 about moves towards local television in Dundee and Tayside/Fife as a whole.    You can hear this by following this link : http://www.dundeewestend.com/2008/08/busy-monday.html

*Meetings with the Council Leader and the Director of Planning & Transportation about a number of issues.   I also spoke at the City Council’s Recess Sub-Committee, backing the report to allow the continuation of a bus service for users of the 72 in the West End and 69 in Broughty Ferry.    I am pleased to say the report was unanimously agreed.

* I am to be on STV news at 6pm tonight to speak about the latest situation on Post Office closures and my request that City Council legal officers investigate the viability of a legal challenge to the four Dundee Post Office closures.

 

 

Post Office Card Account

Post Office Card Account

Post Office Card Account

News yesterday in the press that the long-awaited decision on the Post Office Card Account (see http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/769360?UserKey=0) has been put off until later in the year fuels the uncertainty over the future of the Post Office network.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been due to reveal last month which organisation would get the contract for what is now the Post Office Card Account but has now put off the decision until later in the year.  

DWP has given no reason as to why it is delaying the announcement but as yesterday’s Press and Journal points out, “…the department would have risked a political furore if it had announced the decision while MPs were on holiday.”

It is vital that Post Office Limited retains this business.  The fact that the announcement of the decision on the contract has been postponed to avoid a political furore does not bode well in terms of what that decision may be.

The Labour Government has lost the trust of the people.    Properly securing the future of the Post Office network, overturning post office closure decisions and helping to secure Post Office Limited’s future by removing uncertainty over the Post Office Card Account contract would go some way towards showing the public that the government is listening.    Don’t hold your breath.

Post Office closures – an update

Following discussions today regarding the Dundee Post Office closures announcement with the City Council’s Depute Chief Executive (Support Services) in her role as the City Council’s chief legal officer, I have sent out the following news release :

NEWS RELEASE : Possible legal challenge to Post Office closures


Dundee City Councillor for the West End, Councillor Fraser Macpherson, tonight revealed that he has been in talks with a senior City Council legal officer about the potential viability of mounting a legal challenge to the decision by Post Office Limited to close four Dundee Post Offices, including two in his own West End ward at Nethergate and Lochee Road.

Cllr Macpherson said that he had today had discussions with a senior City Council officer who was now investigating the viability of a challenge to Post Office Limited’s closure decision.

Cllr Macpherson said, “I believe the so called “consultation process” over the closure proposals was little more than a sham and having now Post Office Limited’s “Area Plan Decision Booklet – North East, Tayside & Fife” which supposedly justifies the decision to close particular Post Offices, I am increasingly convinced that we should not take their decision lying down and at least investigate all avenues in terms of the potential viability of mounting a legal challenge.

“I think the consultation process was fatally flawed, partly in relation to the inappropriately short consultation period of just six weeks. Although the Greater London Authority’s recent attempt to force judicial review in relation to London Post Office closures was rejected by the High Court, what has become clear is that the Cabinet Office’s own guidance states that 12 weeks minimum is good practice for public consultations and therefore Post Office Limited’s six week consultation falls far short of such good practice.

“Furthermore, as another example of the flawed consultation process, in respect of one Post Office (Nethergate in Dundee) – I and others objecting to the closure, including the City Council’s own objection, gave Post Office Limited clear, specific, evidence about customer growth in the future. In its decision booklet, Post Office Limited dismisses this evidence in just one sentence – “Information was also received on several new developments being planned in the area.”

“There is absolutely no explanation as to how Post Office Limited dealt with this evidence and why it dismissed it. In attempting to justify the closure in its decision booklet, Post Office Limited confines its comments to the accessibility issues of the nearest alternative Post Offices. It appears scant – if any – regard has been taken to the evidence presented to it, calling into question the appropriateness of the consultation process,” he continued.

Cllr Macpherson said that, on receipt of the Post Office Limited decision booklet, he immediately wrote to Sally Buchanan, Post Office Limited’s Network Development Manager, asking why the evidence of potential customer growth at Nethergate Post Office was given such scant mention in the decision booklet and why Post Office Limited appears to have ignored or overlooked that evidence. He has also contacted Professor Alan Alexander, Chair of Postwatch Scotland, the independent watchdog for postal services, about the issue.

Cllr Macpherson concluded, “At this stage it is difficult to say whether or not a legal challenge to Post Office Limited would be viable or succeed, but it is important to seek clear legal advice on this matter. I am aware from past cases that several local authorities have successfully worked together on other matters of concern to their citizens and what is abundantly clear from the Post Office Limited decision earlier this week is that people right across the North East, Tayside and Fife are extremely concerned about the large number of Post Office closures right across the whole region.”

Letter to the Prime Minister

There has naturally be an expression of real disappointment from residents about the decision to close Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices. I have today written to the Prime Minister about the matter, in the following terms:

Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
10 Downing Street
LONDON SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister

I wish to express my deep concern at the handling of the issue of the future of Post Offices by your Government.


The further closure programme of at least 2500 post offices throughout the UK has now impacted upon my own ward in Dundee’s West End, where after a “consultation period” of just six weeks, Post Office Limited has confirmed the closure of two local Post Offices – Lochee Road and Nethergate – which are vital community assets, particularly for the elderly and less mobile. The so-called “alternative” Post Offices are not easily accessible in terms of both topography and public transport.

I am convinced that your Government’s post office closure programme will have a huge impact on the elderly and most vulnerable members of our community as well as hitting small businesses. It is surely an indictment of your Government’s own policy that even cabinet ministers are opposing the closures in their own constituencies – while supporting them for everyone else.

Post Offices are the lifeblood of communities in both rural and urban areas, particularly when they are combined with other services, such as the local shop. When the local post office closes other services often follow suit, which can be devastating for the community.

It is vital that the true social value of this network is included as well as its economic value when looking at the long-term future of this valuable network.

In my view there is a clear need for your Government to listen to the people on the issue of Post Office closures, reverse the current closure programme, and henceforth provide the real investment needed to protect the existing network at its current size.

In addition to existing Post Office services, I believe the network should have an additional main function as the shop front or one stop shop for public bodies and a point of call for information on public services.

A wide range of services should be available in branches throughout the network.
These could include payment of vehicle excise duty, passport checking, bureau de change, Government information services via computer terminals, banking and other financial services, developing the police’s trial scheme – reception points for reporting crime, anti-social behaviour etc. Sub post offices could also act as agencies for the sale of tickets for bus and train travel, theatres, cinemas and concerts and for adult education services.

You should ensure that the Post Office network is the cornerstone of the programme to provide every UK citizen with access to a basic bank account. Post offices can play a key part in financial inclusion – they want and need the additional trade that offering basic bank accounts would provide.

I would urge you to act immediately to end the Post Office closure programme and to provide the necessary investment to ensure that the Post Office network can be preserved and enhanced with its existing number of branches.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Convener of Planning & Transport

West End Ward
Dundee City Council

Post Office Closures : Disappointing outcome

A very disappointing outcome indeed today to learn this morning from Post Office Limited that it is indeed going to close Lochee Road (pictured) and Nethergate Post Offices – and indeed close all four threatened Dundee Post Offices.

I have already spoken on Wave 102 and Radio Tay today on the outcome and will be on North Tonight on STV at 6pm – my main point is that, in my opinion, the consultation process has been a complete sham. Here’s the news release I issued to the media this afternoon :

NEWS RELEASE : Councillor slams “sham consultation” over Dundee Post Office Closures

Dundee City Council Planning & Transport Convener and West End Councillor, Fraser Macpherson, today slammed what he described as a “sham consultation” by Post Office Limited, which has resulted in the closure of four Dundee Post Offices.

Councillor Macpherson said he was in particular really concerned about the effect of the closures on elderly and people with mobility problems in his West End Ward, who will be affected by the loss of the Nethergate and Lochee Road Post Offices.

Cllr Macpherson said, “The so-called ‘consultation’ by Post Office Limited was nothing more than a sham. In the huge area of North East Scotland, Perthshire and Fife they are saving just three Post Offices – and none of the threatened ones in Dundee are to be saved. The consultation period was far too short and despite over 4000 objections to the closures across the region, it appears that Post Office Limited is more concerned with cutting vital services than listening to local people.

“Having spoken recently with the Postmaster at Nethergate Post Office, to suggest that his thriving Post Office is no longer viable flies in the face of the facts, and I am shocked at the destructiveness of Post Office Limited’s actions. To them it appears profits come before people and that is totally unacceptable.

“Ultimately, however, the finger of blame for the dire situation facing the Post Office network lies with the Westminster Labour Government, which has agreed to the closure of at least 2500 post offices throughout the UK. Labour’s post office closure programme is having a huge impact on the elderly and most vulnerable members of our community as well as hitting small businesses. It is a sorry state of affairs and I am deeply disappointed to learn of the decision affecting the threatened Dundee Post Offices,” he concluded.

Post Offices – a decision likely on Wednesday

In discussion today with the Royal Mail Scottish Press Office in Edinburgh today, I received confirmation that a final decision on the four threatened Dundee Post Offices is due to be announced on Wednesday (30th July).

As residents are well aware, there has been much local concern over Post Office Limited’s proposals to close four Dundee Post Offices. Many constituents in the West End have expressed their opposition to closing the Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices, both of which provide an invaluable service to local communities and, along with other city councillors, I have made clear my strong objections to the closure proposals.

The Royal Mail Scottish Press Office in Edinburgh confirmed to me today that an announcement is due on Wednesday regarding the four Dundee Post Offices and have further promised to e-mail me their announcement immediately it is made. I have reiterated the point that Post Office Limited should be listening to local communities and taking into full account the detailed evidence presented to them to make the case for keeping the Post Offices open.

The Royal Mail Scottish Press Office in Edinburgh confirmed to me today that an announcement is due on Wednesday regarding the four Dundee Post Offices and have further promised to e-mail me their announcement immediately it is made. I have reiterated the point that Post Office Limited should be listening to local communities and taking into full account the detailed evidence presented to them to make the case for keeping the Post Offices open.

I am to be speaking on GMTV on Wednesday morning to make the case for our local Post Offices and pleased to have the opportunity to do this.

On an unrelated matter, I was very concerned to learn about an incident in the lane that runs between Tait’s Lane and Peddie Street which took place late on Saturday evening, and in which a local women had her handbag snatched at knife point.

You can read the full story in tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” (click on the headline above to read this). As I said to the Tele, “Obviously, I’m concerned to learn about the incident and for the woman, who must have had a frightening experience. I should also say, however, that incidents of knife crime in the city are thankfully very limited.


“I urge anyone with information to contact Tayside Police on 0845 600 5705.”

Post Offices – update

I have today written to Post Office Limited asking that it promptly advises of the outcome of its consultation exercise with regard to Dundee Post Offices.

Residents in the areas that the Nethergate and Lochee Road Post Offices serve have contacted me asking when Post Office Limited will make a decision about the future of the Post Offices that they have said are under threat. People are naturally concerned at the possible loss of their local post office and anxious to learn the outcome of the recent consultation process by Post Office Limited.

The consultation ended on 8th July and we have yet to hear further from Post Office Limited. One constituent advised me that she has been checking the Post Office website daily to see if there is any news update on the outcome but there has been no update since 8th July.

I have therefore written to Sally Buchanan, Network Development Manager at Post Office Limited, asking that the outcome of the consultation process and Post Office Limited’s final decisions are made known as a matter of urgency. I think Post Office Limited owes it to the affected communities to make its intentions known as soon as possible.

Tuesday Update …

Apart from a busy day on the “day job” front, I took part in a lively joint surgery with Alison McInnes MSP at lunchtime at Blackness Library.

We also visited the Sound Sense project – click on headline to view more – which is doing superb work to help deaf people in Dundee, Angus and Perth & Kinross.

As part of Alison’s visit to Dundee, she visited Nethergate Post Office to meet the Postmaster, Mr Farhat Baig, and add her voice in support of the campaign to keep the vital Dundee Post Offices open. See photo (above right).

After her visit to Nethergate Post Office, Alison said, “I am very disappointed at the decision of Post Office Ltd to recommend closure of the four Dundee Post Offices at Lochee Road, Fairmuir, Broughty Ferry Road and Nethergate. All four provide a vital service for the communities they serve.

“It was very clear from my visit to Nethergate Post Office today that this Post Office is extremely busy and that the Postmaster has invested to improve the Post Office facilities. Mr Baig gave me detail of the continually improving sales at Nethergate Post Office and, with around 1200 customers every week, any suggestion of closing this Post Office makes no commercial sense for Post Office Ltd.

“I am strongly backing the campaign by local councillors and others in Dundee to save all four Post Offices and am writing to Post Office Ltd making clear my formal objection to the closure plans.”

I am pleased to say that the campaign to save the four Dundee Post Offices is really gathering momentum and getting support right across Dundee. In the West End, many residents have contacted me in support of the campaign.

At Nethergate Post Office, it is very clear that Mr Baig, the Postmaster, has built up an excellent business which is vital for the local community and with an increasing, not reducing, customer base, I think the case for keeping this Post Office open is very strong indeed.

We will be continuing the campaign to save the four Dundee Post Offices right up to the closing date for objections on 8th July and urge residents to make their feelings known to Post Office Ltd.

Postwatch response

I sent my recent objection to the Post Office closures to Postwatch as well as Post Office Ltd as I believe it is vitally important that the independent postal services watchdog is made aware of the facts that support the campaign to keep these post offices open.
I have now had a response from Postwatch as follows :

Dear Councillor Macpherson

Network Change Programme

Thank you for copying Postwatch Scotland into your correspondence regarding the proposed closures of Nethergate and Lochee Road Post Offices.

Regarding Nethergate Post Office you outline your concerns about the reasons for the proposal as it is an area which is going to grow significantly in the future.

Your correspondence with respect to Lochee Road outlines your particular concerns regarding the accessibility to alternative branches especially for vulnerable members of the community.

You also mention that you feel that both communities would receive a lower quality of service at other branches and that they would both be losing a vital service should these closures go ahead.

Postwatch Scotland’s focus will be on whether Post Office Ltd’s proposals meet the newly introduced minimum access criteria for post offices which aim to ensure communities are within a reasonable distance from a post office.

We will also check that local factors – such as public transport arrangements, pertinent topographical features, demographics and the impact on the local economy – have been properly considered.

However, I should make you aware that Postwatch Scotland does not have the power to overturn Post Office Ltd’s final decision on any closure.

The concerns you raise are of great value to Postwatch Scotland and will help to influence our response to Post Office Ltd at the end of the consultation period.

The information has also been passed to our network team responsible for assessing Post Office Ltd’s plans. I would like to thank you for taking the time to raise your concerns with us.

If you would like to discuss this, or we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Emma Swithenbank
Postwatch Scotland Administrator

Busy Tuesday …

This morning, I chaired (most of the) TACTRAN Board meeting in Stirling and I am most grateful to Councillor Alan Jack (the Vice Chair, a member of Perth & Kinross Council) who kindly chaired the final item so I could get back to Dundee …

Why ? There was a packed meeting took place at the Paton’s Lane sheltered housing complex this afternoon where local residents voiced their concerns at the proposal by Stagecoach Strathtay to remove the Number 72 bus service.

I arranged the meeting so that the bus company could hear the specific concerns from residents about the effect of the bus service being lost. The Operations Manager from the bus company also attended to hear residents’ views. The fact that over 40 residents attended the meeting arranged at short notice shows the strength of feeling in the local community about the need to keep the 72 bus service.

I have no doubt that this point was not lost on the representative from Stagecoach Strathtay and he did promise to take back to the company the issues residents raised and thereafter feed back to me the company’s response. He has also agreed to attend a further meeting to discuss the company’s response after the company has had the opportunity to discuss all the issues raised. At this stage, Stagecoach Strathtay has proposed that, rather than their original decision to completely remove the 72 bus, they had reconsidered to an extent and would provide a more limited service, with only four buses each day and only travelling as far west as Windsor Street.

Whilst it is better than the original decision to simply take the service away completely, residents pointed out at today’s meeting that it fails to provide anything like the service of the current 72 in terms of the western part of the route, the links to Royal Victoria and Ninewells Hospitals and shopping facilities at Tesco Riverside. The company representative did say he would take back these concerns to the company. I think it should be stressed that the 72 provides a lifeline service for many residents, particularly elderly people, and its removal would be a real blow to the whole community. I really sincerely hope that Stagecoach Strathtay can come back with a better proposal than that currently on offer to help ensure that this lifeline service is not lost.

Tonight, I attended two meetings – firstly a public meeting on the Post Office closures (click on the headline to view the article in tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” covering my formal objection to the proposed closures of Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices) and thereafter a meeting of the Friends of Magdalen Green committee. The Friends are organising a petition against the proposal to withdraw the 72 bus service – good for them!

Post Office Closures : my letter of objection

I have today submitted a formal objection to Post Office Ltd’s proposals to close Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices. This is part of the growing campaign to keep these two Post Offices open.

In my letter, I point out that, given its significant customer base, I am extremely surprised that Post Office Ltd is giving any consideration to closing Nethergate Post Office.

There is considerable evidence to show that the customer base of this Post Office will increase in the future rather than decrease. The Post Office is located in the City’s vibrant cultural quarter, an area which will see considerable further enhancement in future years. Within the cultural quarter and close to this Post Office are situated Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee Repertory Theatre, the Sensation Science Centre and an increasing number of restaurants, galleries, craft shops and bars.

The Nethergate Post Office is also extremely close to the new Alliance Trust headquarters due to be opened in the near future, where some 160 additional employees will be brought into the area and also in close proximity to the University of Dundee campus area with nearly 18,000 students and more than 3000 staff.

Major investment in new student accommodation and teaching and research facilities are ongoing, and this adds to the clear evidence that the customer base of Nethergate Post Office will increase in future years making it extremely difficult to understand the proposal to close the Nethergate Post Office.


With regard to Lochee Road Post Office, I point out that it serves a large local community including many elderly customers who live in sheltered housing, for example in the Tullideph area.

I have great concern that the alternative Post Offices listed by Post Office Ltd in relation to Lochee Road Post Office are not close by or accessible. The nearest alternative it quotes (Blackness Road) is not really an alternative at all given the topography of the area. Not only is the terrain extremely steep, there is also no direct bus service between the communities currently served by Lochee Road Post Office and Blackness Road.

The other alternative Post Office mentioned is Meadowside, which is almost a mile away.

I would add that Meadowside (which is quoted by Post Office Limited as an alternative Post Office for both the communities served by Nethergate and Lochee Road) already has queuing difficulties, and the queuing times will increase still further if either or both Lochee Road Post Office or Nethergate Post Office were to close.

It will cause significant difficulties for the local population paying rent and Council Tax payments, especially the large elderly population in the Lochee Road Post Office area.

My letter concludes by making clear that I would strongly argue that both Lochee Road Post Office and Nethergate Post Office should be retained.

FOCUS Special Edition – Lochee Road Post Office

Following the FOCUS Special Edition for the area served by the Nethergate Post Office, delivered last weekend, today the West End LibDem team was out delivering a similar special edition of FOCUS (Edition 64) covering the area served by the Lochee Road Post Office.

Speaking with residents in the area, it is clear that they strongly oppose moves by Post Office Ltd to close the Post Office in Lochee Road. Closure would particularly hit the elderly people in the area and there is no easily accessible alternative Post Office.

It is good to see the strong support of residents for the campaign to save the Post Office and the FOCUS newsletter gives residents details of how to object to Post Office Ltd over their closure proposals.

You can download a copy of the FOCUS Special Edition for the area served by Lochee Road Post Office by clicking on the headline above.

FOCUS 63 : Save Nethergate Post Office!

The West End LibDem team has been out today delivering the Nethergate and adjacent area – and speaking with residents – to campaign against the Nethergate Post Office closure, as proposed by Post Office Limited.


It is clear that residents fully back the campaign to save Nethergate Post Office, just as we have found in relation to the other proposed closure – Lochee Road Post Office.


You can download FOCUS 63 by clicking on the headline above.

Post Office Card Account

Thank you very much to all residents who have contacted me about their concerns at the proposed Post Office closures of the Lochee Road and Nethergate branches. I am submitting a detailed objection to Post Office Limited, but I thought I should also highlight concerns about the future of the Post Office card account.

The Liberal Democrats are very keen for the contract for the new card account to be awarded to the Post Office. Only the Post Office has the network to allow people from all over the country to access a card account of this kind.

It is essential that people are able to access their savings and benefits over the counter at their local Post Office. Some 4.3 million people throughout the country use the card accounts, including many pensioners. Without access through an organisation who they trust, like the Post Office, some may be denied access to their own money.

There is huge frustration that the Government simply does not recognise the social value of the Post Office. Liberal Democrats have consistently and strenuously opposed the Government’s plan to close 2,500 branches across the UK this year – on top of the 4,000 they have already closed, and the 3,500 post offices that were closed under the Conservatives. So, while we respect the need to get a competitive deal for the taxpayer by putting the card account out to tender, we believe that protecting the long term viability of the Post Office and avoiding yet more closures should be the Government’s priority when they make a decision on the Post Office card account.

The card account contract is worth around £1 billion to post offices between 2003 and 2010. Without that income stream many thousands of other branches are likely to be unable to survive. The people who most need the service of a post office will be most affected


Instead of pulling the rug from under people’s feet, the Government should be building on the success of the Post Office card account. We need to find additional services to be provided through post offices, not cut the services that are already provided.

The Government’s track record on this issue does not give much cause for hope. In recent years the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have pulled the plug on television license payments at the Post Office, the Home Office has decided not to allow post offices to be involved in delivering passport services, and the Department for Transport is not allowing all post offices to issue driving licences. They have undermined the Post Office’s business at every turn.

If the Government terminate the Post Office card account they would further seriously damage the post office network. Far from seeing it thrive, the Prime Minister risks making the destruction of Britain’s post office network the most visible part of his legacy.

Committees last night – and Magdalen Green

I spoke on a number of items at City Council Committees last night including:

* POST OFFICE CLOSURE PROPOSALS – opposing the recommendations by Post Office Limited to close Lochee Road and Nethergate Post Offices.

* FREEDOM OF THE CITY – To support this proposal to award Freedom of Dundee to Burmese Leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

* ENVIRONMENT MATTERS – Regarding air quality issues.

The concerns of both Friends of Magdalen Green and myself regarding events over the weekend at the Green were reported in last night’s “Evening Telegraph” – click on headline above to view article.

Post Offices – news update

Following the meeting between Dundee City Councillors and Post Office Limited yesterday, I’ve now written to the other West End City Councillors suggesting a West End cross-party campaign to co-ordinate efforts to save the threatened Post Offices at Lochee Road and Nethergate, Dundee.

I was pleased that all four West End Ward councillors had attended the meeting with Post Office Limited and that there had been an excellent cross-party and cross-city turnout of councillors.

All four West End Councillors have made clear our total opposition to the loss of these Post Offices and I have taken the step of writing to my colleagues suggesting we meet next week to discuss a joint approach to maximise the effort to save the Post Offices in our area. I have no doubt we will all wish individually to make our own representations to Post Office Limited, but a co-ordinated effort is really needed in terms of the campaign.

Post Office Limited made clear that it would listen to any hard evidence and therefore I have already been in touch with the City Council Assistant Chief Executive requesting he provide evidence-based information that we can use to make the case to retain the Post Offices.

I believe there will be clear evidence that comes forward to support retention of these Post Offices. For example, the Nethergate Post Office is sited in an increasing busy cultural quarter, with the new Alliance Trust UK Headquarters to be shortly completed nearby – a £12m investment, bringing many new workers into the immediately adjacent area. It is also adjacent to the University campus, Dundee Contemporary Arts and Dundee Rep – an area with an increasing, not reducing, customer base.

In the case of Lochee Road Post Office, it is clear that Post Office Limited has failed to take into account the challenges that would face the large elderly population close by – for example from the Tullideph sheltered housing – as the “alternative” Post Offices they claim people can use are neither close by or easily accessible for the citizens who presently use Lochee Road.

I have also been in correspondence with Postwatch Scotland, and append the latest exchanges below :

From Postwatch to me :

30 May 2008

Dear Councillor Macpherson

Network Change Programme

Thank you for contacting us about the proposed closure of Nethergate and Lochee Road Post Office.

Postwatch Scotland is pleased that you will be forwarding a copy of your formal response to us in due course.

Postwatch Scotland’s focus will be on whether Post Office Ltd’s proposals meet the newly introduced minimum access criteria for post offices which aim to ensure communities are within a reasonable distance from a post office.

We will also check that local factors – such as public transport arrangements, pertinent topographical features, demographics and the impact on the local economy – have been properly considered. However, I should make you aware that Postwatch Scotland does not have the power to overturn Post Office Ltd’s final decision on any closure.

Any information that you provide regarding these proposals will help to influence our final response at the end of the consultation period.

If we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Yours sincerely

Emma Swithenbank
Postwatch Scotland Administrator

My response to Postwatch :

Thanks Emma; I have already been in touch with our City Council Assistant Chief Executive asking him to look for evidence-based information that we can use to make the case to retain the Post Offices in my ward.

I believe there will be clear evidence that comes forward to support retention of these Post Offices.

For example, the Nethergate Post Office is sited in an increasing busy cultural quarter, with the new Alliance Trust UK Headquarters to be shortly completed nearby – a £12m investment, bringing many new workers into the immediately adjacent area.

In the case of Lochee Road Post Office, it is clear that Post Office Limited has failed to take into account the challenges that would face the large elderly population close by – for example from the Tullideph sheltered housing – as the “alternative” Post Offices cited are neither close by or easily accessible for the citizens who presently use Lochee Road. Pertinent topographical features make, for example, Blackness Road Post Office difficult for the elderly and less mobile to get to from the Lochee Road area.

It is clear from the meeting elected members in Dundee had with Post Office Limited yesterday, that there is a great strength of feeling amongst city councillors of all political persuasions that the proposals are unacceptable and would lead to significant problems for the communities involved. I am very grateful, therefore, for Postwatch Scotland’s close interest in this issue.

Best regards

Fraser

Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Councillor for the West End
Convener of Planning and Transport – Dundee City Council

Save our Post Offices!

Like many residents locally, I am extremely dismayed to learn that – of the 4 Post Offices announced as to be closed in the Dundee City Council area – two are in the West End Ward, one in Lochee Road – the other being the Nethergate Post Office.

Having received the very bulky recorded delivery mailing from Post Office Limited this morning about their so-called “Network Change Programme” (for that read “Network Closure Programme”), it is clear that the number of customers in both Post Offices is very significant (750-999 per week at Lochee Road Post Office and 1000-1499 per week at Nethergate Post Office) and their loss will have a significant deterimental impact on the communities they have served so well over the years.

I am in the Nethergate Post Office in particular frequently – it is always busy and suggesting it should be closed to my mind makes no sense. I totally concur with the comments of the postmaster Mr Baig that the decision to close Nethergate Post Office is a strange one. Furthermore, it is open for longer each week (at 51 hours) than the next nearest Post Offices some distance further west in Perth Road, and in the City Centre at Meadowside.

I have already commented to the media that I hope all people locally will campaign to save our Post Offices. That includes – I hope – Dundee West Labour MP Jim McGovern, whose party’s record in office with regard to the Post Offices has been extremely poor.

The Labour Party’s policy is one of managed decline, developed in response to their own plan to require the Post Office to be commercially self sufficient, while at the same time withdrawing huge chunks of revenue through the decision to pay benefits where possible through bank accounts, and develop direct and online channels for vehicle and TV licences.

By the end of the current closure programme, Labour will have overseen the closure of almost 7,000 post offices – 11 offices for every single week in power.

Labour Ministers are now expecting Post Office Limited to return to profit by 2011. Yet despite the size of that task, less than £90m per year is going to be available for the investment essential to turn the business round.

There is a clear need nationally for a costed and credible set of proposals to keep existing post offices open and, where necessary, to open others. I sincerely hope that our Labour MP in Dundee will help in the campaign to save Post Offices in the City. Everyone can help the campaign by e-mailing consultation@postoffice.co.uk criticising the proposals.

Magdalen Green Band Concerts, HMOs, Post Offices

Firstly, pleased to note band concerts on Magdalen Green starting again on Sunday – please click on headline above for more details.
The Licensing Committee of the City Council yesterday adopted a new policy of restricting HMO licence numbers in any area to 12.5% of housing; a sensible move and similar to the policy adopted for planning purposes last year. I am not a Licensing Committee member but had responded to their recent consultation on the matter, suggesting adoption of a parallel policy to that of Planning’s.
The only exception to the new 12.5% licensing rule will be in the “City Centre”; yesterday I queried the boundaries of this as in planning terms, the Central Dundee Housing Investment Focus Area is wider than the City Centre and includes parts of the West End. However, I have received a map from the City Council showing the exempt area does not include any of the area west of the campus area, so the streets in the West End where residents have raised concerns will be covered by the new policy.
In my latest FOCUS newsletter, I raised residents’ concerns about the future of the Post Office Network. We have a number of vital Post Offices in the West End. I therefore wrote expressing concern to the Trade and Industry Secretary, Alistair Darling MP. For the record, here’s the DTI’s response :
Dear Mr Macpherson

Thank you for your e-mail to Alistair Darling about the future of the post office network.

The Government recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why the Government is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this.

There is wide acceptance – including from the National Federation of Subpostmasters – that the current size of the network is unsustainable. New technology, changing lifestyles and a wider choice of accessing services mean that people are not visiting post offices as often as they used to. The network’s losses are now running at almost £4 million a week – double what it was two years ago and that will increase further unless action is taken.

The Government’s public consultation on proposals aimed at securing a sustainable future for the network ran from 14 December 2006 to 8 March 2007. The consultation attracted over 2,500 responses and the Government announced on 17 May its decisions in light of the responses received.

The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003. The Government has decided (subject to European State Aid clearance) to extend that support to 2011 with the provision of up to another £1.7 billion additional funding.

This funding will support a new strategic framework for the Post Office. There will be clearly defined minimum access criteria to safeguard rural, deprived urban and remote coverage. This will ensure that the vulnerable communities most in need of post office services will be protected. The network will be supplemented by 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, which will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Nevertheless, to ensure sustainability, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

Post Office Limited is responsible for implementing the programme at a local level. They plan a rolling programme of 50 to 60 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. It will take around 18 months to complete, starting from Summer 2007. The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices.
As well as the numeric access criteria, it is recognised that, in drawing-up implementation plans, Post Office Ltd will need to take into account local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc. Post Office Ltd will also be required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on local communities. No areas will be subject to more than one round of closures and area proposals will be developed with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and Postwatch before Post Office Ltd carry out local consultations, which will provide everyone with the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.
The Government has supported Post Office Ltd in its efforts to develop its range of financial service products, with Government’s investment having included £500 million for the Horizon project to bring computer systems into every post office throughout the UK.

The Post Office recognises the need to increase its range of services and products and that it needs to adapt to changing shopping habits and give subpostmasters high quality products to sell which appeal to the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s customers. Post Office Ltd is now the largest provider of foreign currency in the UK and the third largest provider of travel insurance. The Post Office is also the UK’s 5th largest fixed-line telephone service provider and has opened 175,000 Instant Saver Accounts in the product’s first year. New products have been introduced and more are in the pipeline. The Post Office will be launching a broadband service later this year in partnership with BT. That will enable it to become a key player in the broadband-based services market, offering Post Office broadband services to the public. That will give people another reason to go into post offices. BT recognises the value of having a shop-front up and down the country.

The value of having a national network is that there can be national agreements to provide travel insurance, broadband services and so on, which individual subpostmasters could never negotiate on their own. That is something that the National Federation of Subpostmasters supports.

The Government introduced the Post Office card account in 2003 and the current contract ends in March 2010. The Government has decided that it will continue with a new account after 2010. The new account will be available nationally and customers will be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now. EU procurement rules mean that we need to competitively tender for this product. Given the size of the network and the access criteria that we are now introducing, the Post Office is well placed to put in a strong bid.
In addition, cash will be available at the Post Office through some 4,000 free-to-use cashpoint machines now being introduced across the network as well as a range of interest-paying accounts. These will be attractive to the general public as well as those Post Office card account users who choose to build up balances on their Card Account.

The Government’s policy framework, now in place, will enable Post Office Ltd to evolve to meet changing customer expectations and rise to the on-going challenges of doing business in today’s marketplace – whilst ensuring the provision of a truly national network.

If you have any specific concerns about the provision of post office services in your area, they are advised to take the matter up direct with Post Office Ltd for clarification. This can be done via the company’s website www.postoffice.co.uk or by phoning 08457 22 33 44 or by writing to POL Customer Care, FREEPOST NAT 18105, Sunderland SR3 3BR.

I hope the above is helpful.

Yours sincerely

Rosemary Buck
DTI/Shareholder Executive
Royal Mail and Postal Services Team