Hartlepool’s biggest post office could be franchised out under national plans affecting dozens of sites across the country.
Post Office bosses have confirmed the unit in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, as well as others in Durham and 37 other towns, are on a list of Crown Post Offices being considered.
The Post Office argues that moving crown offices - the larger branches usually on high streets - to other sites such as retail outlets maintains and improves services.
But Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has demanded answers from Post Office bosses and said one of his biggest fears is that it could just close altogether if there’s no outside interest in it.
Mr Wright was informed earlier this week that Hartlepool was on a list of 42 Crown Post offices being considered for a franchise.
He said: “I think this is fraught with risks. It could adversely affect staff and I think there will be job losses. We have had bad news on the jobs front with Tata Steel and, with an unemployment rate of two and a half times the national average, we can’t afford to lose any jobs at all.”
He also voiced worries about the quality of Post Office services in the future, whether anyone could be found to take over the operation, and the potential for huge units in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre to be left vacant.
Mr Wright said: “I have been back in touch with the Post Office and asked for further discussions. We need clarity on this.”
An official Post Office statement said: “We have been talking to our people at a number of locations (around 40) including Hartlepool, about the potential changes regarding their branch. It is absolutely right that they are the first people to be aware of these potential changes. When we have developed firm, detailed plans there will be a six week public consultation.
“We are seeking a suitable potential retail partner because we believe that franchising, which has been used successfully in other areas for many years, will secure services in the area for the future. “
The Communication Workers Union said up to another 50 branches face being franchised in the next two years, with a total of 1,000 people affected by the proposals.
CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey said: “This is devastating news for our members. It is death by a thousand cuts. The proposals disregard the wealth of expertise, experience and sense of pride in public duty which is shared by Crown Post Office employees.”
Unite union officer Brian Scott said: “This announcement is a slap in the face for Unite members, who have worked extremely hard over the last few years to eradicate losses.
“Unite members have not shirked from the challenges that they have faced and, in return, the Post Office has announced plans, developed in secrecy, to offload more Crown branches.”
Roger Gale, the Post Office’s general manager of the crown network, said: “In some locations, directly-run Crown Post Office branches work well but in others there are alternatives, such as franchising, which can work better for the business and its customers, not just in terms of access to Post Office services but also in relation to long-term viability.”