All members of staff at New Malden Crown Post Office took redundancy when it was franchised to ZCO on April 22 2020, according to the Communications Workers Union (CWU)
A CWU spokesman told the Kingston Courier that eight members of staff opted for unemployment over continuing to work with ZCO, a Lancashire based company which runs several post office franchises across the UK.
National executive for the CWU Moray Meade said: “When New Malden closed, there was collectively 205 years worth of experience that went right out of the door.
“[Staff] preferred to go to unemployment status than to go and work for ZCO because there are a lot of people who are concerned about them.
“You never get a good service by cheapening it,” he added.
At the time of writing ZCO, run by Zubair Patel, had not responded to the Kingston Courier’s request for comment.
ZCO area manager Ravi Gummakoda previously said that the level of service provided at New Malden would be the same under ZCO, and that there would be longer opening hours and a wider range of products.
“Anything can change at any time – we can’t promise to keep the same staff for life. If they want to stay they can,” he said in March.
‘Our worst fears have been realised’
Earlier this year, hundreds of people campaigned against the franchising of the post office.
Conor Bollins, chair of Kingston & Surbiton Labour Party, said: “We campaigned against the franchising of New Malden Crown Office because we believed it would lead to a loss of footfall on the High Street, a loss of jobs, and a reduction in services, that are particularly relied upon by elderly and vulnerable people.
“We will have to wait until the pandemic wanes before we will be able to fully assess the situation.
“However, all indications show that our worst fears have been realised.”
In addition to protests on the high street, a petition of over 1,500 signatures was submitted on March 1 to the Chief Executive of Post Office Ltd.
Resident Jane Lewis signed the petition and has always used the New Malden Crown Post Office.
She said: “We need a large main post office as it is used, by loads of people.
“If it closes, fewer people will come to the high street, and that will impact on the local shops.”
Lewis said she would have to use a smaller post office which has limited opening hours.
120 Crown Post Offices left
Franchising was brought about because of the privatisation of Royal Mail.
Meade said there are 120 Crown Post Offices left and described the situation as “absolutely terrible”.
“What we’ve seen across our country is that a lot of communities haven’t even got a post office anymore,” Meade said.
Chris Head, former postmaster and post office horizon scandal victim, said the post office model relies on franchising.
He said: “If it improves the offering and services for the local area it should be done.
“However, not at the expense of losing high quality trained staff with years of experience and replacing them with minimum wage staff with very little experience.”
He noted how the commission-based model makes it hard to be profitable unless footfall significantly increases.
He said: “If this doesn’t translate into increased turnover, then you will see these newly franchised offices closing completely in a short space of time.”
Meade said generally, after franchising, post offices experience a 40 to 50 per cent downturn in footfall.
However, he acknowledged that it is “not the fault of the people working behind the counter” but the franchising model.
Meade said that other ZCO branches have had to close soon after being taken over, such as Sheerness Post Office in Kent closing after 18 months.
Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Kingston & Surbiton did not back the campaign but issued a video statement in February claiming he had been reassured by the Chief Executive of Post Office Ltd that there would be no loss of jobs or reduction in services.
Earlier this week I met with senior managers from the Post Office to raise concerns about their plans for franchising New Malden— Ed Davey MP 🔶🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey) February 14, 2020
I’m also writing to Royal Mail to seek their future assurances for their delivery office and will update when I can pic.twitter.com/6PivPFOYV9
A spokesman for Kingston & Surbiton Lib Dems said they were unaware but “deeply concerned” to hear about the redundancies at New Malden Post Office and encouraged anyone who was made redundant to contact Ed Davey.
He said: “[Davey] is arranging a follow-up meeting with the Post Office and ZCO to discuss New Malden Post Office as it continues to be a vital service in the heart of our community.”
There are also plans to redevelop the sorting office attached to the back of the site.