Paula Vennells, the Post Office’s Managing Director, told delegates at Co-operative Congress in Birmingham that it has now become an affiliate member of Co-operatives UK after the Postal Services Bill recently became an Act of Parliament paving the way for it to be a mutual.
She said her organisation with its 376 year history had more in common with co-operatives than might be expected and was a “part of the fabric of Great Britain” that aimed to blend national with being local.
Ninety seven per cent of all post offices are run by agents, not employees; more than 500 branches are run by co-operative retail societies and a further 150 by community shops. Ms Vennells said the organisation was characterised by “a web of relationships that involves collaboration and co-operation”. “We share values — care, passion and trust — and I see these values as very central to mutualism,” she said.
An independent review had estimated the Post Office delivers more than £2 billion of social value to the UK.
Looking ahead, Ms Vennells said the Government had committed £1.34 billion of investment in the Post Office over the next five years, enabling the organisation to transform the size and shape of its network. And she announced there would be no further programme of closures.
She explained that a Post Office Local initiative was being piloted which had extended opening hours and existing partnerships with credit unions also had the potential for expansion. She said Co-operatives UK’s report on the Post Office had been “extremely helpful,” providing a “very good basis for understanding”.
Ms Vennells ended by saying her dealings to date with the co-operative and mutual sector had been reassuring: “The Post Office has no automatic right to the business it has, but with all its history and value to Britain we must seek to sustain it. There is a concern that a mutual model could become a bureaucratic drag to commercial success, which would be a major problem. Mutualism can’t just be a dream to protect the Post Office of the past but a vision for its future.
“I am reassured that mutualism and commercialism are not in conflict.”