Diss residents have been urged to employ ‘people power’ and threaten to boycott businesses to prevent controversial Post Office franchising proposals from moving forward.
A packed-out public meeting at the Diss Youth and Community Centre last night was used to rally a community effort behind the fight against the Post Office’s plans to franchise out services to a local retailer, which could lead to the Crown branch in Market Place being shut.
Attendees unanimously voiced their opposition to the proposals, and they were encouraged by the panel of speakers to lobby the Post Office directly and band together to dissuade local businesses from bidding on any potential franchise deal.
Richard Bacon, former MP and current Conservative parliamentary candidate for South Norfolk, described the Diss Post Office as “the jewel in the crown” of the town centre, and said those in charge at the Post Office should be thinking “more positively and more creatively”.
“The question is not ‘are we completely against change?’ The question is ‘what’s right for Diss?’,” he said.
“There are things that can be done and it requires a lot of will, drive, imagination and honestly a bit of luck.
“If there’s not a precedent, let’s create a precedent. Let’s come up with a compelling offer that works for the community and keeps the Post Office at the heart of the town. Personally, I think we have a great chance of doing that.”
Mr Bacon suggested one way to keep Diss Post Office where it is could be to rent out sections of the interior to retail partners, enabling the building to offer more goods and services.
Responding to a question from a former postal worker attending the meeting, he said he also generally supported the idea of a ‘postbank’, a banking branch of post offices seen in various countries around the world, including France and South Africa.
Organisers of the public meeting said they had invited the Post Office to send a representative to the event, but their invitation had been declined.
However, the Post Office has previously stated many Post Offices nationwide had already been successfully franchised out, and it was necessary in Diss because they felt the town’s branch was not sustainable, adding that their priority was maintaining convenient access to services.
Retailers often cited as possible franchise partners are local supermarkets such as the Morrisons store off Victoria Road, and the Diss branch of WH Smith in Mere Street — both ideas objected to by attendees at the meeting.
Diss Town Council leader Graham Minshull said he believed those at the top of the Post Office hierarchy “clearly didn’t know Diss”, and vowed that the council would continue to fight against the franchising plans.
“What happens if that Post Office goes into a shop and in six months, that shop goes bust? Or what if after six months, they say ‘it’s not for us’?,” he said.
“I know for everyone here (at the meeting), there are 10 or 20 more of you who are absolutely furious about this.
“There is clearly a head of steam here. People power does work. Big business does listen if you shout loud enough.”
Andy Furey, national officer of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), accused the people at the top of the Post Office of “completely lazy management” and called on them to release financial data for the Diss branch to explain why they deemed it unsustainable.
He said franchising arrangements in other parts of the country regularly led to redundancies for Post Office workers, and he added there was evidence that franchise partners often employed people on minimum wage who had been poorly trained.
“The obscene thing is the government is actually giving a subsidy to pay for these redundancies. That’s public money that could be used to invest in the Post Office. It’s logic that doesn’t make sense,” said Mr Furey.
“We are not saying keep the status quo for the sake of it. We are saying there have to be imaginative ways to find new business, new opportunities and new enterprises. There is an alternative to privitisation.”
“Ultimately, it’s about deterring any of your local businesses from getting involved. Play hardball with the potential of threatening a boycott.
“Don’t lose heart because this will be a long campaign. Keep the faith. I’m absolutely convinced we will have a Crown Post Office in Diss in the future.”
The public meeting was set up following the success of a petition launched by Diss resident Brigitte Butcher — to view the petition, visit www.change.org/p/save-diss-post-office