The Post Office has embarked on a new wave of franchising and more could get the stamp of approval as the network of 285 directly-managed Crown branches comes under review.

The latest tranche of 37 Crown branches the Post Office wants to close and move into new retail franchises ranges from Abbey Wood in south east London to Pontefact, in West Yorkshire.

A Post Office spokeswoman said the franchise route had been taken because the branches were not all sustainable in their current form.

“Local circumstances vary…but include factors such as rising property costs and changes in customer shopping habits and town centres.

“Franchising is a proven model as a way of us keeping our services on high streets where customers want them, but providing services more cost effectively…We can’t expect taxpayers to subsidise lossmaking directly-managed branches in towns and cities,” she said.

The Post Office’s most recent spate of franchising started in 2016, with 24 branches franchised to WHSmith and one branch to another franchisee who already ran branches in the Midlands.

“We have also moved 14 branches to WHSmth but continue to operate these ourselves,” the spokeswoman said.

She said there were 54 other branches where the Post Office had previously announced proposed franchising or relocating during the past year and which were at various stages of planning.

“We will continue to review the network to make sure that branches are sustainable into the future.

“Our network has to be about what works in each location to sustain services there,” she said.

The Post Office said prospective franchisees’ premises would need to be sufficiently large to accommodate a “main model” post office, with two or more open-plan counters.

It quoted HIM research showing that 78% of customers using a Post Office buy something else in the shop and 73% of shoppers say the Post Office is the main reason for being in the store.

Retailers do not have to pay any franchise fees and the Post Office pays for the equipment, installation and staff training. Franchisees get paid a fee for every Post Office transaction.

Harshad Patel, who operates a franchise in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, said: “Moving the Post Office to my retail store has dramatically increased my customer footfall and the new opening times have encouraged more customers to use our Post Office Services.”

The Communication Workers Union slammed the franchise plan. General secretary postal Terry Pullinger said: “The arrogance of the Post Office and government is stunning. The Post Office network has been reduced by more than 50% over the past 30 years and continues to be run down.”

Neil Ennis, head of network transformation said: “Convenience stores are vital to the modernisation of the Post Office, our customers want a great value service locally and at a time that suits them, on the way to work or on the way home for instance, traditional Post Office hours are a thing of the past.

 “Convenience stores are open when customers want them and a Post Office in a store is a brilliant footfall driver for the retailer and a great way of keeping Post Office services in the community.”

Retailers interested in a franchise opportunity can register online here.