The stakeholder forum tasked with considering the future of the UK’s post office network has come together to begin discussions regarding mutualisation.
Post Office Ltd split from the Royal Mail Group this April, to become an independent, state-owned company overseeing the UK’s network of 11,500 post offices.
Government ministers want to see the company mutualised so that it is owned by employees, customer groups and representatives of the community.
Ministers proposed a stakeholder forum in July, as part of the process of drawing up plans for a mutual structure, to look into the public role of the Post Office and how its role can be sustained in future.
The forum, which includes both Post Office stakeholders and representatives with experience of mutual organisations, met last week for the first time.
Its members include representatives from government, the unions, the sub postmasters’ federation, consumer watchdog Consumer Focus, the Citizens Advice Bureaux, Age UK and British Youth Council as well as the BBC Trust and mutuals advocates Mutuo.
Paula Vennells, the chief executive of Post Office Ltd and chair of the forum, said the forum was “another exciting development” for the network along with its modernisation.
“Our social role is well documented,” she said. “Its value is estimated at more than GBP 2bn a year. The task of the stakeholder forum is to examine how we might further embed this key public purpose and protect it in the years ahead.”
Vennells said the stakeholder forum would produce a new statement of purpose for Post Office Ltd, around which a consensus could build regarding the mutualisation of the company.
“This would provide a common basis for those with a stake in the Post Office to build on and help us to further develop a commercially successful business which exists for the public good with the needs of our customers at its heart,” said the Post Office Ltd CEO.
The Communication Workers Union, which is part of the stakeholder forum, said the term “mutual” could have “quite a broad meaning”, covering organisations like building societies, friendly societies and other employee or customer-owned organisations.
Andy Furey, the union’s national officer for Post Office members, said the first meeting of the stakeholder forum had gone well, with the broad range of groups taking part in agreement that the Post Office was “part of the social fabric of society”, and that it should be protected under a mutualised structure.
The CWU actively campaigned against the separation of Post Office Ltd from Royal Mail Group, along with its opposition to proposals to privatise Royal Mail.
But Furey said that now separation has occurred, the union now has a clear interest to be engaged in the debate about the future of the Post Office and the move to a mutual system.
He said: “Mutualisation could be beneficial for our members if the process is conducted properly – we must therefore be fully engaged from the outset.”
Source: Post&Parcel/Post Office Ltd