The report’s proposals published last week would give sub-postmasters — together with employees, charities, customers and local communities — a much greater say in how the network is run.
Members of the report’s project team including Mr Mills; Peter Hunt, Mutuo Chief Executive; and Clare Oakley, North West Regional Secretary of the Co-operative Group, sought the views of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, retailers, businesses and a range of experts and examined member owned mutuals like the Co-operative Group and employee owned mutuals such as John Lewis and concluded that a hybrid of these two structures would work best for Post Office Ltd.
Co-operatives UK Secretary General Ed Mayo told the News: “We want to see a first class, not a second class Post Office, and a mutual, rather than a state-owned, Post Office is one way to achieve that because, over time, it can let the people who have the greatest interest in the network share in its success.
“We welcome the imagination the Government has shown, but also the understanding of Ministers that this needs careful design and open consultation to succeed.
“In itself, being a mutual is not enough. You need to find ways to use the model, with its dispersed ownership, ethical values and opportunities for commitment and loyalty to create commercial and social advantage.”
Added Mr Mayo: “With input from all the key interested parties, we have therefore identified a model for how Post Office Ltd, now owned by the state, can become the Post Office Mutual, operating in the public interest.”
Minister for Postal Affairs, Edward Davey, commented: “I welcome the report — it paints an exciting picture of what a mutualised Post Office Ltd could look like.
“A radical shake-up to combine elements of John Lewis and the Co-operative Group’s ownership arrangements would give those who know the Post Office best a real say in how the organisation is run.
“But mutualisation will only work if the key parties involved want to make it happen and believe it to be the best way forward — it is not something which can be imposed from above.
“We will carefully consider the report before launching a public consultation later this year.”
Ministers believe that transferring ownership of Post Office Ltd — but not the privately owned individual branches — to a mutual could help secure a positive future for the network.
The Government is clear that before any changes can be made, the network will need to be put on a more secure financial footing, so that a mutual could build from solid foundations.
It believes it is realistic for the Post Office to be in mutual ownership by the end of this Parliament and will conduct a full public consultation this year.
Last year the Government announced £1.34 billion of funding for the Post Office to maintain and modernise the network. However mutualisation would not prevent the Government from providing further funding in the future.
• The report is available at: www.uk.coop/postoffice.
The report’s key recommendations . . .
• The Post Office would be owned, ultimately, by its members
• Those delivering the service, such as employees and sub-postmasters, and representatives of those receiving the service — such as consumer, charitable and community groups — should all have the chance to become members of the Post Office mutual
• The option of every Post Office customer being allowed to become a member of the network should stay open, but may not be cost-effective, in terms of governance arrangements, for the first phase
• The Post Office should be run on a day to day basis by a board of directors and non-executive directors. But this Board will be answerable to and appointed by a forum that is representative of the members
• Government has a key role to play, not least in supporting the delivery of public services through the network, but it should not be a member or owner. Its relationship should be a contractual/regulatory one
• The core purpose of the Post Office is to operate for the public benefit and this should be entrenched, with legal safeguards, for perpetuity.