Ruffley slams Post Office Ltd over inaccurate information in post office closure reports

Tuesday, 29 April, 2008

In advance of the Crown Street Post Office public meeting on 16 May, David Ruffley has been doing some careful checking of the Branch Access Reports which list information that Post Office Ltd have used to reach their decisions on post office closures.

David discovered glaring errors in the population statistics quoted in the Branch Access Report (BAR) for Wattisfield Post Office, which is due to close. Under the heading 'Population Age Profile (within 1 mile of branch)' the population quoted for rural Wattisfield is 35,303! This cannot possibly be correct when the population of Bury St Edmunds is approximately 35,000! And on the BAR for Great Ashfield Post Office, also due to close, the population is quoted as 324- much more realistic for a small village! There are further errors on the BAR for Wattisfield Post Office where it lists alternative post office branches: the population quoted for Botesdale is 36,666 and the population figure quoted for Stanton is 34,065.

In addition to checking the BARs, David has been questioning Gary Grange, Senior External Relations Manager at Post Office Ltd, to assist local campaigners who are working hard to try to keep their local post offices open.

David asked Gary Grange to explain how the population figures quoted in the BARs were calculated. The reply David received was:

'Population is calculated by breaking the country down into census Output Areas (OAs), of which there are over 220,000 in the UK. Actual accessibility is calculated by measuring the distance of the centre of the OA to its nearest Post Office access point.'

Campaigners have criticised Post Office Ltd for making it extremely difficult to find out how the information was obtained to enable them to challenge the closure decisions on a rational basis. Campaigners feel they are being blinded by science and not given comprehensible explanations.

David has also been asking questions about the viability of the Post Office's proposals for outreach services. Gislingham Post Office is due to close and be replaced by an outreach service point at The Six Bells public house in Gislingham High Street. However, during a visit to Gislingham Post Office, David was informed that the owner of The Six Bells may be selling up and moving. So why is Post Office Ltd listing the pub as an outreach point when there are clearly no firm arrangements in place? Mr Grange's response to David on this was:

'We have be made aware that the person who owns the Six Bells pub may be selling up but that there are no timescales and it's still only a possibility at this stage. We are happy, through consultation, to hear views on other solutions for this outreach, including the village hall and will continue to determine the most suitable and sustainable solution before the final decision is made.'

David said: 'If they cannot even get the population figures correct or give a comprehensible explanation of how they calculate them, how do we know that their other information is correct?

'Their outreach proposals for Gislingham are a sham when they clearly have no firm plan in place to use the local pub.

'How can we trust their judgement on the closure programme as a whole with mistakes like these?

'The livelihoods of the postmasters and postmistresses who run our local post offices are at stake. Will they be closed on the basis of incorrect information? We simply don't know. I will be attending the public meeting on 16 May and asking some tough questions of Gary Grange and Laura Tarling who will be there to represent Post Office Ltd.'