When posting profits is ahead of posting parcels

Three cheers for Thunder Lane Post Office in Thorpe St Andrew, says Rachel Moore, who wonders why ot

Three cheers for Thunder Lane Post Office in Thorpe St Andrew, says Rachel Moore, who wonders why other branches (and banks too) aren't meeting their customers' needs. Photo: Archant library - Credit: Archant

Post offices that shut at lunchtime on Saturdays are not serving their customers' needs, says Rachel Moore. And as for banks...

On Saturday, I drove about 20 miles searching for a post office that was open after 1pm.

Finally, after two fruitless stops and an Internet search in a lay-by on the A47, I joined the queue at Thunder Lane Post Office, Thorpe St Andrew, which, for anyone else ever in the same desperate position to post a parcel after Saturday lunchtime, is open until 4pm.

A big shout-out to the staff there for serving their community, with Christmas jumpers and good humour too.

They had been rushed off their feet since they opened, the woman told me.

When I reached the front of the queue, there were at least six people waiting in line behind me. I never thought to ask if they had driven half an hour to find an open post office too or if it just happened to be a very busy post office, but there was definitely a need for that service on a Saturday afternoon in December.

It's bad form for other branches to shut at lunchtime.

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For full-time workers, Saturday is the day for jobs and chores. We want to post parcels on a Saturday afternoon, send back on-line shopping, buy foreign currency and all those other services we use it for

To offer workers just a half day to sort themselves out is a bit off, and part of the 'this service is designed to suit the organisation and staff and not the customer, so tough luck' culture.

It provides unique services so we need it to be open all day. It purports to be user-friendly. How? By closing on the busiest time of the week for other shops?

It would help if there were post offices close by in the communities we work but, as more in rural communities close, we end up playing 'hunt the post office'.

At least our village has managed to hang on to its Post Office, unlike the other Broadland village where I used to live, even if mine has decided to close now at 1pm on a Saturday rather than 3pm, which is why I was chasing around like a madwoman, making me half an hour late to meet friends.

The Post Office might be more interested in big business than its face-to-face services but it should remember its roots. It needs its customers.

Banks too, in an increasingly competitive market place, are deserting their roots and effectively telling customers to stuff it. Embrace mobile banking or go elsewhere – but, as some towns will end up with no bank's physical presence, there's nowhere else to go.

Rural communities in Norfolk and Suffolk need small branches. Every time one closes, it damages that community.

NatWest announced it is to close six branches across Norfolk and Suffolk and 197 across the country because of the 'radical changes' in the way customers use its services.

Every time a bank branch closes, jobs are lost as well as valuable services, not just to residents, but to the businesses working hard to grow there and employ local people too.

We understand that 40% fewer people go into its branches. Business is dropping and staff need to be paid. I get that.

But its customers need a full service. Old people are the pay-in cheques over the counter generation, many have a deep suspicion of technology and on-line banking, if they can use computers at all.

They need to speak to someone face to face, to ask in person for their balance and transfers and withdraw money from person to person.

They don't have mobile phones so how can they do mobile banking?

Who's fighting the elderly person's corner within these banks? Who represents them in the many focus groups?

There are campaigns running for the first time to tackle loneliness among the elderly. Taking away community services that still gave them a sense of participating in the economy and business world and gave them purpose to their day is playing a large part in the increasing isolation and loneliness.

Bank managers of years gone by would be horrified at how customers are being served now. Progress isn't always good. Forgetting, or worse disregarding, what customers need is arrogant and short-sighted.

Bank branches are important for small businesses to flourish in communities too.

Move Your Money, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for a better banking system, says towns where the last remaining bank shuts experience a 104% drop in small business lending growth, ie pushing net lending negative.

Closures also tend to be in poorer communities. Analysis by Reuters showed that more than nine-tenths of branch closures have been in areas where the median household income is below the British average of £27,600.

Small businesses need a bank nearby. Pubs, for one, deal with a lot of cash transactions and need to be able to cash their takings locally.

Towns targeted for closure might just be dots on the map for top bosses at banks and the Post Office top bosses but their customers are real people who have been loyal to their service for years.

They are providing a vital lifeline to so many, who must not be ignored.