Question marks over future of Hartlepool’s biggest post office

The Crown Post Office in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, Hartlepool.
The Crown Post Office in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, Hartlepool.

Hartlepool’s biggest post office is being targeted in a massive cost-cutting national shake-up.

The office in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, as well as others in Durham and 37 other towns, are on a list of Crown Post Offices which could be put out to franchise.

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.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has demanded answers. He wants Post Office bosses to address a whole raft of fears.

One is that it could close altogether if there’s no outside interest in it.

Another is that jobs could be lost in a town where unemployment is running way above the national average.

A third is that more units could be left to stand empty in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre.

Mr Wright was informed earlier this week that Hartlepool was on a list of 42 Crown Post offices affected by the changes. As well as the 39 up for franchise, three more are likely to close in Wales and Northern Ireland.

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.

A 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. 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, will secure services in the area for the future.”

Shopping centre manager Mark Rycraft said: “It has not been confirmed that the Middleton Grange Post Office will be affected by these closures.

“ However, should this be the case we will work with the Post Office to ensure that there is no direct impact for our shoppers and essential services are not disrupted.”

The Communication Workers Union assistant secretary Andy Furey said the national proposals were “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.

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.”