Unrealistic demands are being blamed for the collapse of a planned post office takeover in Innerleithen.
Negotiations between Caldwell’s ice-cream shop and the Post Office have broken down, and the latter has instead opted for a permanent move to mobile service for the town.
Despite widespread support for plans for the post office to move into the High Street ice-cream parlour, it was confirmed today that its bid has fallen flat.
Shopkeeper Andrew Caldwell blames unrealistic demands over layout and opening hours for the collapse of the plans and claims the Post Office was never serious about the negotiations.
He said: “I had planned to build a dedicated post office counter in the corner of my shop, away from the ice-cream counters. However, they wanted the two counters together at the front of the shop, and I didn’t agree with that.
“They also wanted me to open from 5.30am to 7.30pm seven days a week. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.
“I offered them 9am to 1pm six days a week. That’s five time more than what the town is getting at the moment with the mobile service.
“I told the Post Office I would at least be offering 20 hours more per week to customers, but they couldn’t answer it.”
Mr Caldwell cited recent post office robberies elsewhere in the Borders, including Galashiels earlier this year, and the robbery of a pensioner followed home from the old Post Office in Innerleithen after someone witnessed her withdrawing cash in the shop as reasons for reasons for standing his ground over the shop’s layout.
“I wanted to put the counter at the other side of the shop to give priority to security and a bit of privacy for post office customers,” he said.
“We’ve had post office robberies elsewhere in the Borders, and I didn’t want to put my staff under any pressure with that. Security was my highest regard.
“It’s my business, so I told them it would be my rules, and they weren’t very happy with that.
“The impression I got from the very first phone call was that they didn’t want a shop. They wanted to stick with the van.
“I am angry and disappointed at the attitude of the Post Office, who appear not to have been serious from the start.
“The town needs a post office, but everything was getting put in my way.”
The town has been relying on a mobile van service since the resignation of the postmaster within the town’s Day Mart store at the start of February.
Although the van service, offering a reduced service each Friday morning was put in place shortly afterwards, it has been criticised by residents wanting a full-time post office to be run in the town again.
Caldwell’s quickly confirmed an interest in hosting the service, and that news was met with support from Innerleithen Community Council, politicians and townsfolk during a six-week consultation period.
However, despite 67 individual responses from customers and local representatives, mostly calling for a permanent service to be reinstated, the Post Office has instead opted for the mobile service to continue.
Post Office network operations manager Kenny Lamont said: “The majority of feedback commented that the proposed mobile service and opening times may not be adequate to meet the needs of customers using the post office in the area.
“This feedback enabled me to improve my understanding of customers’ concerns and to ensure that all such information was taken into account before finalising our plans for the new service.
“We do understand that, for some customers, the new mobile service and the proposed opening times may be less convenient. However, we do consider that the introduction of a mobile service and the proposed opening hours will allow us to restore a post office service to these communities for the longer term.
“We will, however, continue to review and monitor services on an ongoing basis. If appropriate and where possible, we will look to increase service provision in the area.”
Caldwell’s was established in 1911 and has been passed down through three generations of the Caldwell family.
The High Street shop believed it had enough room to comfortably host post office services too and had hopes the move would create further jobs.
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame has slammed the Post Office and called for further, more realistic negotiations to begin immediately.
She said: “As I understand it, talks between the Post Office and Caldwell’s ice-cream shop in Innerleithen began several weeks ago, and it looked like the post office would have a desk in Mr Caldwell’s premises. However, it looks like talks have broken down now – and worst of all, it looks like the Post Office never had any intention of these negotiations succeeding.
“I am calling for an urgent meeting with Post Office management with a view to finding a solution that restores a full range of postal services to Innerleithen. The community needs and deserves no less.”
The mobile van service, operated by Denholm Post Office, will be available from outisde the Co-op store in Peebles Road each Friday from 9.30am to 1pm.
In a joint statement, Tweeddale East council candidates Stuart Bell and Simon Ritchie added: “The Post Office seems to want to abandon Innerleithen. We cannot accept that.
“If the Post Office wants to have a desk in existing retail premises, they will, of course, have to compromise.
“The approach they have taken to date in Innerleithen was unrealistic and, we fear, designed to fail, perhaps as part of a cost-cutting exercise.
“With the best will in the world, a van visiting Innerleithen for a few hours once a week from Denholm isn’t going to cut it, especially in winter.
“The mobile postal van’s track record in places like Clovenfords is not good.
“We are pressing the Post Office to return to the table as soon as possible with more realistic terms.
“We will be working closely with our local MSP Christine Grahame to make this happen.”