in the back
It’s counter productive!
Christmas post, Issue 1460
POST OFFICE chief executive Paula Vennells has made solid progress in 2017 dismantling our centuries old public service. At the last count more than 750 branches were “temporarily closed” thanks to unattractive “take it or leave it” offers of cash to tart the office up in return for vastly reduced income.

Meanwhile, our masters at the Finsbury Dials HQ seek to replace them (maintaining our statutory total of 11,500 offices) by persuading local shopkeepers to set up post office counters next to the fags ‘n’ mags. They will be doing well if they can make this pay, as yet more lines of work once open to sub-postmasters are taken away from us.

Tax discs went (leading to a dramatic rise in car tax evasion); as have some tax payment services and income from the Post Office Card Account banking system, which the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs have been discouraging benefits and tax credit claimants from using.

Latest wheeze
Meanwhile, fees for the services we are still permitted to sell are being chiselled away. Under the latest wheeze, from next year we will lose around 3 percent for handling mail on the grounds that new machines will supposedly make the process more efficient. Once again, the fruits of progress will be enjoyed more at Finsbury Dials than around the country.

Aggressive commercialisation is now throwing up some bizarre results, even for our flagship “Crown” offices – of which around 170 have already been farmed out to WH Smith. As any old postmaster will testify, the No 1 priority is to balance the books at the end of the day. Yet down on the south coast in St Leonards-on-Sea, the Post Office has handed its Crown office to an operator incapable of accurately counting its own pennies. From January, the East Sussex branch will be run by a company based in, er, Bolton, called Potent Solutions Ltd.

A quick check shows that Potent Solutions has filed its accounts at Companies House late and only after being threatened with being struck off. On both occasions it has then had to amend its figures to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds and submit revised accounts. Among its errors was the ultimate postie blunder of showing incorrect cash totals. How our masters approved this deal is beyond not just the Save St Leonards Crown Post Office campaign but anyone who’s ever sold a stamp.

It has at least been a promising year for sub-postmasters who have been sacked, convicted and sued for either stealing or hiding losses they say were caused by our notoriously malfunctioning Horizon IT system. The litigation being brought by 522 of them began its way through the courts in October, with a trial expected late next year – despite the Post Office’s attempts to delay it yet further.

Those who still have a job have themselves been buoyed by a promising challenge from the Commercial Workers’ Union that sub-postmasters should receive workers’ rights, rather than taking all the downsides of employment with none of the benefits such as sick or holiday pay.

While those at the sharp end get harried and underpaid, in the boardroom the good times roll. Our ordained boss, the Reverend Paula, trousered £619,000 for 2015/16. A couple of months ago she opened an address to the London diocese conference: “My faith has been absolutely central to transforming the Post Office”, she said, invoking the Book of Kings and Solomon’s wise judgement. There was no time to dwell on what Matthew had to say about rich men, camels and entering the kingdom of heaven.

Paula’s earnings this year are so far unknown; five months after they have traditionally been published, this year’s results remain hidden. Or maybe they’ve been lost in the post?

‘Old Postie’

More top stories in the latest issue:

Atos and Capita, the private firms that carry out the discredited personal independence payment health tests, only employ four doctors between them, none of whom is directly involved in assessing claimants.

New analysis of NHS suicide statistics shows that the number of people claiming out-of-work disability benefits who have attempted suicide has doubled since the introduction of ‘fit for work’ tests.

Thousands of NHS estates, facilities and IT staff are under threat of being shunted off into arms-length companies in a desperate quest to save money.

Tough times for Age UK, which faces cuts to vital services for elderly people after criticism of its insurance and financial services business.

Officials in Northern Ireland conclude that it is ‘not expedient’ to halt sand-dredging in Lough Neagh, despite environmental concerns about impact on the wetland.

More on the mysterious case of the deleted documents in the battle between accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the liquidators of Leeds-based Premier Motorauctions.

Another person dies after taking so-called ‘diet pill’ 2,4-DNP. Yet despite efforts by the Food Standards Agency it remains easy to find online.

Prison staff failed to take emergency action after a mentally ill prisoner was seen in his cell with a plastic bag.

To read all these stories in full, get the latest edition of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 23rd January 2018.
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Private Eye Issue 1460

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23rd January 2018
In This Issue private eye
New from Gnomemart – The Royal Wedding Day FA Cup Final Commemorative Plate… Book of Revelation: Chapter 94: The Last Trump… Parents Urged to Look for Signs of Asthma if Their Children Wheeze and Win the Tour de France… Trumpelstiltskin to Send Cow to the Moon – Nursery Times Exclusive… Sparts Personality of the Year Won by Mo Mentum… I’m an Apprentice Masterchef Get Me Out of Celebrity Strictly Come Bake-Off Christmas Final – Xmas TV Highlights… Donald Trump’s Christmas Cheer, as told to Craig Brown

And also...

- Gnome’s Christmas Giftmart: It's Transgender Barbie & Ken – and more!
- Cartoons galore: Plus… The Dung Beetle Learning Guide
- Win free cash! Enter the Eye’s £250 mega prize crossword

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Private Eye Issue 1459