More post offices in line to go private

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THE POST OFFICE is set to transfer almost a quarter of its remaining 950 main high street offices to private ownership, according to a leaked internal document.

It was sent to regional Post Office managers by Lesley Lawson, head of Retail Network Strategy at Post Office Counters, and says seven regional managers are to nominate offices for the transfer. It also puts them under pressure to speed up the franchising of Post Office activities.

The document says: 'You will all know, I believe, that our aim as a business this year is to at least maintain the momentum of conversions achieved last year and if possible to exceed it.

'Within that, given that larger offices are coming into the frame, we are also looking to maintain and if possible increase the number of franchise conversions.'

Ms Lawson says 204 Crown offices have been 'nominated for conversion' and calls on regional managers to 'deliver up to 10 franchises each because the signs are that we do not currently have enough'.

A Post Office official said: 'Nothing has been ruled out in the process of franchising. All our market research shows that our customers like it.' There have already been 80 franchises. From now on more customers will find the job being done by supermarkets, stationery shops, newsagents, department stores and even off-licences or pubs.

Prospects for jobs in Post Office Counters are grim, with up to 15,000 at risk. Alan Johnson, general secretary-elect of the Postal Workers Union, condemned the plans and called for an immediate halt to the closures.

'We can now be in no doubt that Post Office Counters are targeting offices for sell-off to achieve financial aims rather than meeting the needs of the community,' he said. 'We believe that Crown post offices should be enhanced in their communities by being allowed to offer new and varied services such as selling theatre tickets and the national lottery.'

Peter Hain, a Labour MP who is sponsored by the Union of Communication Workers, is to raise the issue in the Commons today. He said: 'Going behind the back of Parliament is objectionable. The document gives a new impetus to privatisation and I will be demanding an explanation.'