You would think that, if you had the best convenience store in town, with a forecourt to boot, plus parking, plus a customers’ petition supporting your application, that you would get the sub post office when the sub postmistress in the village decided to retire from her little ‘centre-ville’ shop.
An extremely frustrated Melodie Andrews rang me from Maiden Newton Service Station near Dorchester in Dorset. She and her husband Mike are Texaco dealers and have been in the village for 11 years. Melodie says that joining Spar has helped the couple improve their store no end. Only thing missing might be a post office. They had previously had informal discussions with the village sub postmistress who was due to retire and who had suggested that she might hand on the post office franchise to the Andrews.
Then she did retire and relinquish the sub post office, but it went to another village shop nearby with no explanation as to her decision. Melodie rang the Post Office on numerous occasions and could get no further than human resources. “It was very hostile,” says Melodie, “something isn’t right about this when no other outlet is even being considered.”
Now is the time to shed a little light on the mysterious private and public sector partnership that defines the sub post office universe.
The sub postmaster-mistress is the owner of both their own shop and the PO side of the business. If they want to sell either/both bits, they can. But if they want to sell the PO side, there is no guarantee that the buyer will get the PO franchise. To get this, the buyer has to pass an interview with the PO to demonstrate that they are literate, numerate and of good character.
The lady in question, in this case, for some reason decided to sell to a nearby shop which arguably does not have all the amenities offered by the Andrews’ operation. But that is her prerogative. I spoke to the Federation of Sub Postmasters for a view on the above and a spokeswoman confirmed that there was no prejudice against forecourts running post offices. They crop up in pubs, clubs and in fact, one of the federation’s executive officers runs a successful post office from his takeaway pizza operation.
Here is the problem with the Post Office. It is huge. It is arcane. Its network of private-public sector sub post offices is weird. Sub postmasters are self-employed yet paid a wage (below the minimum when you work out the hours). Its left hand very often doesn’t know what its right hand is doing which is why, for most of the time that the Andrews were trying to negotiate, they didn’t realise that the PO actually had no say in the matter. The PO never told them this and the outgoing sub postmistress had her own agenda and therefore also didn’t keep them properly informed.
Melodie and Mike are now better informed and may not even want to include a post office in their offering. But they are totally ticked off at the way such a huge business knows so little about its grass roots operation.