Lottery axe threatens post office

STEPHEN PULLINGER A village postmaster claimed last night he might have to lay off his long-serving employee or even close his family business altogether after a threat by Camelot to withdraw his Lotto outlet.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

A village postmaster claimed last night he might have to lay off his long-serving employee or even close his family business altogether after a threat by Camelot to withdraw his Lotto outlet.

The problem has arisen because the weekly Lotto income at Strumpshaw post office, near Norwich, has fallen below the £1,000 threshold imposed by Camelot.

Postmaster Stephen Hearnden, 62, who runs the business with his wife Christine, said the loss of Lotto would mean his income falling £120 a month - and his post office income had already fallen nearly £400 a month in recent years because of changes to regulations.

He said they had been forced to close the adjoining village shop in December because of a fall in trade and would be forced to consider the future of the post office as well, even though it was lifeline to the small community, if Camelot carried out its threat after 60 days.

Mr Hearnden, who moved to Strumpshaw nearly eight years ago after retiring as the head of the school of management at Middlesex University, said: “When we took over in 1999 we built the business up, but the shop trade collapsed dramatically two years ago. We think as there are a lot of retired people in the village the growth of on-line shopping played a part.

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“Our Lotto takings were once £1,500 but they have slipped to below £900 a week since the closure of the shop. If the Lotto goes from here customers will have to go to the Spar in Lingwood or to Brundall, or do it on-line. And some are likely just to stop doing it. Many village residents are set in their ways and do not like change.

“We don't know how badly we will be hit because some customers only come into the post office because they know they can get a Lotto ticket or scratchcard as well.”

He said he was already preparing for the worst, supplementing his income with a wine import business and doing wine lectures.

Matthew Knowles, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, of which Mr Hearnden is a member, said: “This is something we have been hearing about in all parts of the country, and it is not helping small businesses in what is sometimes a struggle for survival.”

He said as long as a Lotto outlet was not losing money, it would seem sensible for Camelot to adopt a more flexible approach, especially in rural areas.

A Camelot spokesman said the average weekly Lotto sales achieved by small independent retailers was £2,500 so the £1,000 threshold was not harsh.

She said they had to strike the right balance between serving communities and raising as much money for good causes as possible - if a terminal was under-performing, it was sometimes necessary to re-allocate it elsewhere to increase performance.

However, she said the 60-day deadline was a chance to turn things around and there was a lot of Camelot support available for retailers striving to increase sales.

She said, additionally, 1,000 Lotto outlets in rural areas had been specially ring-fenced as not having to achieve the £1,000 target.

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