I've seldom witnessed such group anxiety as now while that grim reaper, the Post Office, scythes its way through the country, slicing up stores, people, lives. Geoff and Lyn Porteous would have given 30 years of loyal service by next May at their store in Anna Valley, Andover. But they will be closed in January. They have enlisted the help of their parish council, their federation, their MP and, after the dreaded event, they are going to try to run the shop, sans post office, for six months. "We are going to do a leaflet drop," they told me, "with the message saying you will lose your post office, don't lose your store. We reckon that if everyone (600 inhabitants) spends £12-£14 with us per week, we will be viable." That is not much to ask but, as every retailer knows who has done the sums and the exercise, it will not be easy to muster.
Robin Craig's post office in Stroud, Gloucestershire, dates back to 1862 when it was purpose-built, making it part of the original PO network. Robin has made a study of the wider pattern of PO closure and has come to the conclusion that the branches being closed are for the benefit of nearby Crown offices.
He writes: "Crown offices are owned and run by Royal Mail and are responsible for a large proportion of the PO losses and have a poor record of customer satisfaction. The people overseeing the closures, although wearing Post Office badges, are employees of Royal Mail who have typically worked their way up from Crown offices. Is it just me or is there a potential stink?"
He adds: "During the regeneration scheme a few years back I seem to remember Postwatch giving the Post Office a yellow card, warning that they were to stop using government money to enhance Royal Mail assets by closing sub post offices and there is a similar warning in the DTI current guide to closures."
And then there are those who don't mind closing but see a certain insanity. A Nottingham couple rang with a similar but different story to the one above. They, too, think there is a hidden agenda. They are on a main parade, a very busy office with a big international-based business in moneygrams and overseas parcels. Too successful was the PO's verdict.
"We will be fine," said the couple, who requested anonymity in order to secure their redundancy, "but our customers are not happy. We know the PO is closing the wrong outlet and the two little sub post offices remaining can't offer the services that we can."
Now, best of all: the previously mentioned retailers sent me a cutting from the Nottingham Evening Post which says that the consultants advising ministers over plans to close 2,500 post offices are pocketing £318 an hour to recommend the shutting of proactive businesses.