The Case Against Closure of Barry Crown Post Office

PO petition handover

The Mayor of Barry, Cllr Emma Pritchard,  and I handed over the Barry people’s petition opposing closure of the Barry Crown Post Office to Stuart Taylor,  Post Office Head of External Relations, Nations & Regions. The petition has been signed by 4,600 residents opposing closure of this vital facility. I also handed over the following report:-

 

 

“Barry Crown Post Office serves the largest town in Wales and the surrounding villages as the area’s main Post Office providing essential services and facilities to residents and local businesses.

The Crown Post Office is open six days a week and is conveniently co-located with Royal Mail Parcels, Sorting and Delivery Office. It serves the community with easy accessibility due to its central location, proximity to public transport and access to nearby parking. It provides many services which are unobtainable outside the Crown Post Office.

It offers the full and complete range of Post Office Services including:

  • All postal services – stamps and parcels
  • Payment of Pensions
  • Payment of DWP Benefits
  • Payment of all Local authority Council Bills
  • Payment of all personal and household Bills
  • Counter Cash Payments
  • Provision of postal orders for Bill Payment (Council unable to take cheques)
  • Bank transactions
  • Provision of Digital Application Services for all Security Licences, Driving Licence with dedicated facilities in the Post Office
  • Verification of Identity Documents
  • Provision of Photo Booth
  • Provision of Foreign Currencies, Travellers Cheques, Travel Money Card and Travel Insurance
  • Payment of Car Tax
  • Handling and checking of cash deposits daily from businesses and also change giving services (small P0s can only handle up to £1,000 per transaction)
  • Handling of cash from Flag Days, Church Collections, Charity Shops
  • Handling Christmas parcels (customer posting over three hundred parcels in one day alone during Xmas period)
  • Transaction of Franked mail from Businesses e.g. Vale of Glamorgan Council and DWP Job Centre and businesses (these cannot be posted into post boxes or handled in volume by smaller Post Offices)
  • Purchase of Collectible – coinage, first day cover stamps, philatelic items
  • Dedicated Room for private financial services and other transactions (e.g. passport application) Savings, Life Car and Home Insurance and Credit Card
  • Exclusive to the Crown PO Special Delivery services are offered up to 5.30pm every weekday
  • Parcel Force (no one home pick up)
  • Amazon local collect
  • National Express Tickets
  • Health Lottery
  • Fishing Licence
  • Passport Check and Send
  • Mobile Phone Top Ups
  • Retail

Barry Crown Post Office employs six members of trained and experienced staff and it offers discreet and dedicated post office services from 5* counters with space for customer financial and advice and transactions which respects customer privacy. The Barry Crown Post Office has been substantially upgraded in the past three years.

Many concerns have been raised about the loss of this service to Barry and the Vale of Glamorgan and these are detailed below in response to four questions posed by the Post Office as part of their consultation process.

How easy is it to get to alternative branches?

Residents have raised concerns about the accessibility of the full range of Postal Services for those without access to a car. As the franchised Post Offices in the area do not offer the full range of services available from Crown Post Offices residents have expressed concern that they would need to travel to Bridgend or Cardiff which for many is impractical. Many noted the difficulty this would cause for the elderly, disabled people and for small businesses who operate locally. Residents have expressed concerns about the difficulty of travelling to Cardiff for these services but also about the expense of doing so and the time that it would take to do so.

Many people are unable or cannot afford to travel further afield in order to access these Services. Residents have expressed concern about travelling a distance when they have childcare commitments which limit their time.

While there are smaller post office branches in the area they do not offer the level of service provided by a Crown office.

Are the alternative branches easy for you to get into and are they easily accessible inside?

Many residents of the area have commented that the Crown Post Office is the only easy to access wheelchair friendly Post Office with regular and accessible transport links in the area. The loss of this important amenity would have severe repercussions on less able residents who rely on the current service. One resident described it as a ‘lifeline for the elderly and the disabled’. Many people have commented on the importance of the current central location service, the accessibility of the building, the provision for parking outside and the proximity to local transport. Concerns have also been raised by residents concerned about the accessibility of local franchised services for pushchairs and prams in addition to wheelchair and walking aid access. Despite being accessible buildings the interiors of the franchised branches in the area are cramped and non-accessible.

The loss of this service would mean the loss of a fundamental service to some of the most vulnerable members of society. The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira, said:

“Many older people have shared with me the concerns they have about the closure of post offices in their communities and the impact that this would have on their lives.

“Easily accessible community-based services are essential to support older people to remain independent and engaged with their communities.

“The loss of such services can therefore have a significant and negative impact on older people’s independence and wellbeing, something that should be carefully considered, alongside options for alternative provision, before any final decisions are made regarding closure.”

This sentiment has been echoed by the residents consulted and by people who have signed the petition. The impact on the elderly population will be significant.

Are any local community issues you think we should know about that might be affected by or affect the proposed change?

Development and Expansion of Barry

The Vale of Glamorgan Council has prepared a Deposit Local Development Plan (LDP) (2011-2026), which was submitted to the Welsh Government and the Planning Inspectorate for independent Examination on 24th July 2015. The Examination is currently on-going with Hearing Sessions taking place until the end of April 2016.  Further public consultation on any necessary Matters Arising Changes to the Plan will take place later this year and the Inspectors report is anticipated to be published in the Autumn. The LDP, once adopted, will form the basis for future development management decisions.

Barry is identified within the Deposit LDP as a Key Settlement, providing opportunities for sustainable growth, with a particular focus on the regeneration of Barry Waterfront and Barry Island.  The Deposit LDP’s Strategy focuses on maintaining and enhancing the town’s existing role as an important service centre, and recognises that Barry will continue to be an important hub for social and economic activity as one of the most sustainable locations within the Vale of Glamorgan.

Policy MG 2 within the Deposit LDP allocates 10 residential sites in Barry (2,360 dwellings in total), including the Strategic Housing Site at Barry Waterfront. In addition to allocated sites, it is also recognised within the Deposit LDP that settlements such as Barry that unallocated or “windfall” sites (either previously developed or infill sites) are likely to come forward which would accommodate new development over and above those sites that have been allocated in the Plan. In the last five years the Vale of Glamorgan Council has approved a number of large “windfall” sites in Barry, for example the re-development of the Theatre Royal, Broad Street to provide 42 flats and associated communal spaces; and the conversion of the Former Methodist Church, Porthkerry Road, into 11 residential units.

Current plans for redevelopment include the large development on the Waterfront including 2000 new dwellings approved in outline with 378 reserved matters approved to date and 342 reserved matters pending a decision in addition to in excess of 400 dwellings planned as part of smaller developments. Concerns have been raised that the custom produced by developments of this size would not be met by other Post Office branches in the area.

Provision of Service to People without Online Access

Most of the services which will be lost are offered online but it has been noted that many local residents do not have access to a computer or are not computer literate. Many rely on being able to speak to a member of staff in person and ask for advice and assistance. Digital exclusion is becoming an increasing concern for some disadvantaged groups in the area.

Loss of Privacy and Expertise

It was noted by residents that franchised post offices do not afford customers with the same level of privacy particularly for transactions involving benefits or pensions or any other financial matters. Examples were given of the benefit of having a dedicated room for private financial services and other transactions for example incidents were described when the room has been used by bereaved residents whose deceased family member had savings accounts with the Post Office and by residents who wishes to discuss personal details and delicate matters.

It was also noted that franchised Post Offices frequently refer customers to the Crown Post Office due to capacity issues and a lack of knowledge which the staff in the Crown Office have been praised for.

Loss of Services

Residents have raised the concern that the Crown branch is the only one in the town that currently provides the full range of Postal Services and that if it is closed, people will have to travel to Cardiff for some services.

Concerns were raised regarding services which pensioners rely on i.e paying car tax and bills and for pensions. Many residents have noted that the staff at this branch are very professional and are a credit to the post office and that the service that they provide cannot be replaced in a franchised business or online. The loss of the private office to discuss personal enquiries is a big concern for local residents.

Residents of the Vale who do not reside in Barry questioned the proposal to close the Post Office as it serves not only Barry but the Vale as a whole. Many residents commented on the developments that are taking place in Barry and how this will increase the number of local residents who rely on the service. Doubts were expressed as to whether a franchised service could supply the demand and that the volume and variety of transactions carried out by the Crown Office cannot be absorbed by other post offices.

Many local businesses have explained that they would suffer losses if the Post Office closed as they rely on being able to access the full range of services locally during business hours. Concern was also expressed by businesses who use franked envelopes and send large quantities of post. Doubts have been expressed about the capacity for other offices and post box collections to meet their demand. Concern was also expressed about local banking as the Crown Office is the only banking facility in the area which accepts large sums of money. The Crown Post Office offer personal and business banking and is the only local facility with the capacity to accept sums of over £1000. On resident wrote that dedicated post offices are the only reliable way for eBay, Amazon and other internet marketplace sellers to dispatch their products and that the problem of lost post has increased using the new franchised shop based post services.

It was noted by some residents that franchised Post Offices do not offer the same level of expertise that Crown Offices do. Residents said that franchised Post Offices often send customers to the main Post Office as they cannot offer the full service. It was also noted that residents rely on trained staff with product knowledge on the services available.

Do you have any suggestions that could help make the change better?

We do not think that the ‘break option on your lease’ is sufficient cause to review the Post Office services within the area and we dispute the claim that the other branches can meet the customer demand in the area.

If it is a business decision to close the branch why have employees not been given proactive training to improve profitability before proposing closure of the Post Office? In light of the recent modernisation of the premises other avenues should be explored prior to closure.

The closure of the Post Office has been opposed by Barry Town Council who passed a resolution on Monday 22nd February 2016 condemning the proposal to close the Post Office. 4618 residents have also signed a petition to condemn the closure of the Crown Post Office in Barry.”

 

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