If we care about the vibrancy of our high streets, then protecting local services like banks and post offices matters.
Just last week the Government announced that a further 73 Crown Post Offices would close. They would be franchised out to WH Smith. Now on one level, this won’t affect the communities in my constituency. All our Crown Post Offices closed a long time ago. They now operate as franchises in other retail outlets, just as is being proposed here. But it matters to those communities concerned. And that’s why I’m proudly supporting the Communication Workers’ Union and fellow MPs to stop the closures.
Let me take you back to 1996. It’s the year the 21-year-old me was first elected to Tameside Council. In the run-up to that local election, the Tory Government of John Major proposed the closure of several Crown Post Offices. It included Denton.
Denton Post Office was then located on Albert Street, near to the Town Hall and facing the Market Place. It was in the very heart of our town centre, as a kind of social glue. People would pop into the Post Office and then mooch around the market and the shops; they’d have a cuppa in the local café. They’d support local businesses.
Over on the other side of Crown Point, our Shopping Giant supermarket was struggling. A new out-of-town Sainsbury’s had been built a few years earlier, and the neighbouring towns had also increased their supermarket offer. So the Shopping Giant took on the Post Office franchise. It was only a sticking plaster. The store closed six years later, and the Post Office was moved even further away, into the back of an even smaller shop on the edge of the town centre.
But it’s what happened to the town in the process. Almost overnight, with the closure of the Crown Post Office, the market lost a quarter of its footfall. Fewer customers meant fewer traders and the cycle of decline was irreversible. The council lowered rents, even gave stalls away for free, but the damage was done. The glue that bound the town centre together has come unstuck. Fewer customers didn’t just damage the market; it impacted on the surrounding shops and cafés too. Ironically, the market was officially closed the same year Shopping Giant closed too.
That’s why facilities like our Crown Post Offices matter. It’s why the next Labour Government will protect them (and renationalise Royal Mail, which should never have been sold off). It’s why we will stop the state-owned banks from doing the same to our branches. And it’s why we will strengthen our planning laws to support our high streets. Because our town centres matter.