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Howard Greenman column: Unity is key going forward

Apr 18, 2024 |

By way of introduction, my name is Howard Greenman, Non-Executive Director of the South West region, and deputy chair of the NFSP board.

I have also been a victim of the Horizon scandal although have managed to avoid conviction due to jumping through many different funding hoops to pay balance shortfalls as they arose. The issue caused very significant personal difficulty and to a degree still does, so my passion to see the wrongs of the past corrected, adequately compensated and financially redressed for all of us remains undaunted. I'll refer to this further in a minute. 
As it is, I am also an elected member of Wiltshire Council where I chair the Strategic Planning Committee. Although not overtly political I am elected as a Wiltshire Councillor under the Conservative banner, which is not readily the most popular boast one can make at this time. It is here however that I want to make some observations and unashamedly draw some parallels too. 
It is little secret that the electoral fortunes of the Conservative Party are somewhat flagging, and that is not only a national phenomenon, but in local government too. I am not up for re-election as it happens until 2025, but there are local elections elsewhere this year too, and what never ceases to amaze me is how, when the squeeze is on, members more often readily turn on themselves rather than focus on the enemy or opposition. You've all seen it to a degree in national government. It happens in local government too and understandably the Conservative Party is anxious to ensure its membership and politicians alike pull together rather than pull apart. 
And so you may guess where I'm going with this as a ready parallel can be drawn from within the post office network and the various representative bodies, and in this I want to be very clear.

I have had my own issues with the NFSP, particularly historically. It is that which prompted me to become more involved in the NFSP. It is also that which made me resist the overtures of the CWU in the person of an old friend and fellow Wiltshire Councillor colleague of mine who urged me to join the CWU as did others.

It would be unfair of me to report the personalities involved within the NFSP at the time as happily they are no longer in post but suffice to say that over my own Horizon issues, I received a sharp rebuttal, and nothing I could say or do would ameliorate that.
As such it was always a temptation to join the CWU, but my response then as now was always that I would not as ''turkeys never vote for Christmas".

There will be those of you I respect who will disagree with me, but given that the directly employed Post Office Ltd (PO) staff represented within the CWU membership far outstrip the postmaster CWU membership, and as to my knowledge postmaster issues alone have not been debated or been specifically supported at CWU Conference to the exclusion of directly employed counter staff, I fail to see the attraction to belong to it.

I am happy to be corrected but I believe the fact remains that directly employed PO counter staff earn significantly more than the average postmaster remuneration and represent in my view a significant drain on the network that cannot be justified.

Add into that equation what I consider to be the cynical industrial action of the CWU Royal Mail employees in Christmas 2022, I cannot understand why I would wish to support a union that appears to actively fight its weakest membership. Surely then, CWU membership by postmasters must be profoundly foolish.  

I personally rely on my modest Christmas postage sales to underpin me through the quieter first two months of the new year and for me the Royal Mail strike action dealt a death blow which I believe some of us may never recover from. I'm sure I'm not the only one to reflect on those that use that excuse to not send a card again stating, correctly or not, that they now give money to charity instead. 

I feel similarly about the Voice of the Postmaster despite again having a number of friends there too. As with the CWU, they have some very good heads between them, and here I have to state my case. I have been close enough to the leadership of the NFSP now to be able to report that I believe the NFSP board in its entirety absolutely has the backs of the membership. What lessons there have been to learn from the past either have been or are speedily being so, and I have been pleased to support both the CEO Calum Greenhow and Chair Tim Boothman, including at Westminster. 

And so it is that I sound a note of caution for all of us in this, but sometimes in life we can be so busy stroking our own egos that we fail to engage the battle. And a battle we certainly have.

In my view, PO engaging with other bodies apart from the NFSP is no altruistic gesture. It can only be to divide and conquer. And yet we are looking at a colossal miscarriage of justice in the Horizon scandal from which we all suffer from directly or indirectly, and a spectacular failure of PO to arrest the issues aligned with what I consider to be an almost unbelievable level of professional arrogance by PO.

Never before has the post office network through its postmasters had to pull together as they do today. We cannot be effective in our shared commitment to the future of the post office network whilst there may be those within it that seek to cause dissent and division, and in my opinion when the Inquiry is finished, it won't be, not by a long way. 

In closing, you will know that I have made no secret of my vision for the post office network to be mutualised, and for those of us who own the business to run the business, and many of you will have heard my point made at conference.

This necessarily has to start with a check and balance on the business in the form of an Oversight Committee which we must collectively press for. This will not be easily won, but when NASA put the first person on the moon, they only considered why it could be done, not the reasons why it couldn't.

We need to be collectively focused, all of us must be big enough to be small enough to put our pride in our pockets and pull together, rather than pull apart, for the common good and the greater good of us all.  We'll rue the day if we don't. 

Thank you, and all the best to you all. 


Howard Greenman

Non-Executive Director South West Region