Mutualisation is the right answer at the right time and has been the policy of the NFSP since 2010. However, Post Office Ltd (PO) has £800m of liabilities and requires hundreds of millions of pounds of government funding per year to stay afloat. If we add in the legal costs involved in the Inquiry along with the current compensation schemes and what is to come when Sir Wynn delivers his ruling, now is not the time for the financial responsibility of the PO to be passed away from government.
Successive governments have caused this problem and collectively they must be held accountable for it. They should not be allowed to abdicate their responsibility until the PO is in a positive financial position and able to fund a viable network that is beneficial to postmasters.
The Co-Operative UK doesn’t own or operate a single post office, the CWU is an employee organisation that is not recognised as a representative body of postmasters and Voice of the Postmaster is a Facebook group that is not exclusively postmasters. Therefore, what legitimacy do they have to speak on behalf of postmasters? Collectively, they do not represent the majority view of postmasters and have not engaged with postmasters en masse to determine what their view of the future of the PO network should be.
There is a question of whether the NFSP were involved in yesterday’s discussions, the simple answer is we were not invited. We have to question whether this was a deliberate attempt by those involved to undermine the role of the NFSP as the recognised representative body of postmasters and to cause further worry, concern and division within the network. The NFSP did open talks with the CWU about the Oversight Committee, but the CWU has chosen not to engage with the NFSP with its thoughts around mutualisation.
As the NFSP were excluded from these talks, the wider viewpoint of postmasters could therefore not be included.
It should be noted that the CWU back in 2010 vehemently opposed the Postal Services Bill of 2011 that included mutualisation, yet today seem to be promoting it as the answer.
To be clear, as things stand, if the PO was mutualised on March 31, 2024, it could be bankrupt on April 1, 2024.
However, the governance of PO must change, and this is why the NFSP are engaging in the democratic process of consulting postmasters with regard to an Oversight Committee. It will include representatives of those who have a contract with PO and importantly consumer champions so that the social purpose of the PO is very much to the front and centre of strategic decisions.
It cannot be ignored that without customers we will not have a business and therefore the needs of consumers around the country must be a significant part of any strategy that is implemented.
Crucially, the Oversight Committee would ensure that ownership of the PO remains with the government and therefore all current and future liabilities would be covered by the government and not postmasters. As far as decision making is concerned there will be a greater level of oversight, openness, and transparency.
As we work towards our Conference in May, the NFSP will be engaging with key stakeholders and most importantly postmasters to gauge their view.
At the two previous NFSP conferences, we introduced and spoke about the Oversight Committee. Since then, we have engaged with the Postal Minister, MPs, MSPs, MLAs, MSs and external stakeholder bodies. At our last working group meeting with the Minister, he asked us to open discussions with PO in relation to an Oversight Committee. Having now had that meeting, it is clear the PO’s only intent is to control and obfuscate any proper change to the governance structure.
Crucially, the NFSP engages with MPs across all parties in relation to the management culture within the PO. Today there is a debate on this being held in parliament at which the NFSP will be present and have provided relevant briefing notes to MPs.