Co-operatives UK joins Post Office mutualisation talks with government and unions

'Any move towards mutualisation marks a profound shift towards empowerment, transparent governance and shared prosperity for postmasters and communities'

Co-operatives UK joined campaign group Voice of Postmaster and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) yesterday (7 February) for talks with business minister Kevin Hollinrake to discuss options for the Post Office.

The meeting, which follows the outcry over the wrongful convictions of sub postmasters, saw Hollinrake confirm the government’s interest in hearing all options and solutions, including the possibility of turning the Post Office into a mutual that would be owned and controlled by postmasters and the communities they serve.  

Mutualisation of the Post Office was previously considered by the coalition government and has been advocated by co-op organisations such as thinktank Mutuo.

Hollinrake told the meeting he would ask the Post Office to engage fully with all bodies representing postmasters. 

And, when it comes to decisions about the future of the Post Office network, he said the government will prioritise remuneration of postmasters and the profitability of local outlets, which are vital to the long-term health and sustainability of the organisation.

The minister has agreed to a further meeting. 

Hollinrake has requested a detailed proposal from Co-operatives UK on its suggestion of an independent review into the practicalities of mutualisation of the Post Office. The sector body believes such a review should be commissioned by the Department of Business and Trade, headed by an impartial public figure, with a panel comprising postmasters, customers, leaders in large mutuals, industry experts and others with expertise in local and rural economies and high streets. 

Their view was that, among other matters, the review would need to consider how a mutual model would empower postmasters, respond to changing customer behaviour, and protect and enhance the already significant social impact of the Post Office network.  

Related: Fresh calls for Post Office mutualisation in wake of Horizon scandal

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, said: “We believe a task force of new and progressive thinkers – with postmasters, customers and leading mutual figures front and centre – could produce solutions for government to consider. We welcome the minister’s open-mindedness and are delighted to put a detailed proposal together.

“Any move towards mutualisation marks a profound shift towards empowerment, transparent governance and shared prosperity for postmasters and communities the Post Office serves. Postmasters, as co-owners, wouldn’t simply be overseeing operations; they’d be guardians of a shared vision, fostering a deeper sense of commitment and responsibility.

“Communities also want to support their Post Office. It could become a vibrant hub of collective success. This is a practical way, through turning the Post Office into a co-operative, to put control and ownership of this national institution in the hands of postmasters and communities.”

Richard Trinder, chair, Voice of the Postmaster, said: “We need significant change. Ministers have looked at mutualising the Post Office in the past and it’s time we revisited these options. The Voice of the Postmaster is indebted to minister Hollinrake for his valuable time and thanks him for further engagement in solving the current day issues of postmasters.”

He added: “Whilst never forgetting the suffering of our fellow postmasters over the last 20 years, it must never be allowed to happen again. All postmaster representative bodies must work together to find the solution for the future.”

Sean Hudson, branch secretary of CWU, said: “The current model is broken – there is no doubt about that. The problems of the past are clear, but the future is as important as the past to our members. No sticking plaster remedy is appropriate or suitable.

“Mutualisation is a very attractive alternative to the current failed model it would replace and represents one of, if not the best way of, ensuring a future for sub postmasters in which they can continue to serve their communities on an economically viable footing – which has been missing to date. ” 

After the meeting, Hollinrake tweeted: “The Post Office is an iconic institution, but we need to ensure it’s fit for the future … I met with the CWU National Postmasters and Voice of the Postmaster to constructively discuss how we can achieve this.

“Input from all involved was useful and I will now consider what we discussed. Mutualisation is certainly not off the table, but as we have always said, any changes to the governance would need to take into account the costs and timing of the significant issues facing the Post Office, not least the compensation schemes and investment in the new IT system.”

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