On 30 October, the final post office in Wick closes after a 6 month extension to the previous closing date in the hope that a solution would be found. Over the last couple of years there have been many changes with both dedicated town offices, one serving each side of the river, closing. A local shopkeeper initially opened a counter in two of his shops and a community premises established a third in their premises but it did not take long before two shut their doors both citing the fact that it was costing them more in running costs than they were receiving recompense for. The last remaining counter then moved into a third shop on reduced opening hours but that has also sadly come to an end for the same reason.
During this period of time, the town’s branch of RBS closed; a mobile van was allocated once a week although it would not always attend and the ability to use the Post Office for your banking needs was promoted. This did not always work particularly well – at busier times, this impacted upon the ability to man the shop but by no means justified an increase in staffing costs and led to tension on both sides of the counter. The announcement that they were resigning was of no great shock although dismaying and they then postponed for a further 6 months in the hope that another local business would step in. Unfortunately this did not happen and finally notice was given that it would close for good at the end of October. Last month another bank in the town also announced that it would be closing its doors but promoted the fact that 94% of its customers would have another branch within 20 minutes of another branch (not the Wickers then) and there was always the Post Office ……
Times and habits are changing and there is no doubt that people don’t use physical branches of any description as much as they once did as can be seen by the part time hours they now open but there is still a need for them. I only very recently discovered that I could deposit a cheque online, a facility that many older people will not use or know about and children cannot pay in Birthday or Christmas money as they too are unable to access online features. Add to this the patchy broadband common to rural areas and once again, the facilities available to those in areas more centralised and which work seamlessly, are not there for the ones most in need. The option to prepay and print off postage at home is available but unless you have a priority postbox, you have to go to a post office to actually deposit the parcel. If you cannot get to a Covid testing station, you can request a home testing kit – but not if you live somewhere without a priority postbox. I do the Covid antibody test where I have to post the results in a priority postbox although luckily they will accept this in a normal postbox as the post office refused to take it.
A service that is reserved, there is often talk about cutting postal services further or removing the subsidy that allows things to be charged by weight rather than charging by distance. We are already disadvantaged with that here in the Highlands where we are charged extra, sometimes by an exorbitant cost for a service that curtails in Inverness if we are lucky, if not Glasgow or Aberdeen. From there it is outsourced to another more local courier who will pick it up and take it to us, next day if timings are in our favour or the following week if they are not. Because it is mainly a rural issue, it does not have the same impact on the majority of the population in the same way that our medical services aren’t understood. We hear complaints about post office closures and bank closures or the cutting of hospital services in the south of the country but when you are only 15 minutes from the next one rather than 2 hours, it is in no way comparable.
With a Brexit no deal on the horizon and the despair of the Internal Market Bill, it is only a matter of time before there are further erosions on service provision to Scotland and when it affects the whole of the country rather than just the Highlands and Islands, things will become more urgent. At the moment we are protected, there has been enough backlash and worry about precarious seats for nothing to have been forced through but these days are numbered. We’ve seen the Tories backlash towards Manchester when things didn’t go the way they wanted it to and there is no doubt that tensions are ramping up in relation to Scotland as polling shows the tide has well and truly turned. In these last days of their crumbling Empire, what further damage will they inflict upon us?