South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has stepped up his campaign to find long-term solutions for closure-hit Post Offices across the south of Scotland.
Several branches look set to close after CJ Lang confirmed those post offices will no longer operate out of their SPAR stores, with one in Forehill already closed. Those still under threat include Thornhill, Georgetown (Dumfries), Gretna and Eastriggs post offices in Dumfries and Galloway; and Whitletts and Bonnyton in Ayrshire.
Colin Smyth has been working with local councillors to appeal to businesses, community groups and the Post Office to find either a permanent home for branches or at least outreach services so the local communities still have access to a Post Office.
He said: “For the past couple of months I have been working with local councillors, several local businesses and groups to find solutions to the Post Office closures in their areas, and there have been a number of very positive responses.
“There is still a lot of anger over the decision by CJ Lang to pull the plug on these services in some of the Spar shops they own, especially given that these are all profitable, viable Post Office counters. However, CJ Lang isn’t prepared to discuss changing their position, so we now need to find alternatives.
“I had a good meeting with Post Office bosses and I’m confident that they’re doing all they can to keep services in each community. I’m pleased that both temporary and long-term arrangements are now being actively pursued by the Post Office.
“It is still early days but I am very hopeful that we can find a new home in Whitletts for the Post Office. I took the opportunity recently to visit not only the existing Post Office on the Main Road with Councillor Ian Cavana, but other businesses in the area that could host Post office services. These are now being considered by the Post Office.
“The existing office is really busy and sadly it will close at the end of the month. We spoke to a lot of customers who are still furious at the decision by CJ Lang to axe services and make loyal staff redundant who have given years of commitment and it really is a shameful way for the company to treat their workforce. They are also showing utter contempt for their loyal customers who in some cases simply can’t easily go into town to the nearest alternative Post Office.
“This decision may backfire on CJ Lang because if we can find an alternative shop in Whitletts to host the Post Office, then customers may well simply go there for groceries rather than use the Spar shop.
“Unfortunately, in Bonnyton there aren’t any obvious nearby shops that could easily house a Post Office but I’m delighted that Bonnyton Community Council and Bonnyton Community Association have come forward to offer to host services at the Community Centre when the current office closes on 27th August. Along with Councillor Lillian Jones, we recently held talks with Post Office Ltd who are now working on a plan to have an outreach service at the centre provided by a nearby Post Office. At the very least this will provide a temporary service, albeit not on as many days as the current office, while we continue to search for a long-term solution.
“I hope that if any outreach service proves successful, it may be that we could explore the option of the Community Council and Association running a Post Office in the community centre, which I know is something they are willing to investigate.
“Having a Post Office in the community is vital for so many of my constituents, particularly those who are older or people who can’t travel easily.
“Sadly, right across the south of Scotland we have seen closure after closure of Post Offices and complete inaction by the UK Government to keep them open.
“These latest closures would be another blow to the region, in particular these communities, and a further cut in the number of Post Offices.”
Ayr North Councillor Ian Cavana said: “The plans to close Whitletts Post Office is nothing short of a disgrace.
“This branch serves many disabled and older residents, among others, who use the post office frequently.
“Many people use the service every week for paying bills and their council tax, and I know just how busy this Post Office can be.
“The nearest Post Office is in Lochside, which has limited opening hours, or WH Smith in Ayr town centre, which is not as easily accessible to people in Ayr North. We do need an alternative here in Whitletts and that’s why I’m working closely with Colin Smyth to explore every possible option.”
Kilmarnock West and Crosshouse Councillor Lillian Jones said: “Our elderly and most vulnerable residents will be hit the hardest by the decision to close the current Bonnyton Post Office in the Spar shop.
“I have personally written to both CJ Lang & Sons and the Post Office urging them to work together to find an alternative location to keep this vital service within the Bonnyton community.
“I was pleased to meet Mark Gibson from the Post Office, Colin Smyth MSP, Rene Skilling from Bonnyton Community Association and Nan Tipping from Bonnyton Community Council to discuss finding a solution to keep the Post Office counter local in Bonnyton and I am very pleased that the meeting was successful in that we will now explore the possibility of an outreach service within the community centre.
“On behalf of the local community I am determined that all opportunities are explored and exhausted to keep provision of post office services local in Bonnyton.”