The Culture of Closure in the UK: The Real Cost of Axing Post Offices

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In the UK, they know all about post office closures.  They’ve been dealing with them for almost 15 years.  As in the US, the British postal system had long been a government department, but in 1969 the UK turned its postal system into a “statutory corporation.”  (One year later President Nixon would sign the Postal Reorganization Act, likewise turning our postal system into an independent agency.)  The British system eventually evolved into Royal Mail, which remains a company owned by the government, even though there’s been a steady push to privatize it.

Privatization is still in the cards, but Royal Mail will need to be seen as profitable before it will find enough investors.  In order to make itself “lean and mean” enough for those investors, they’ve been downsizing the system since 1997. The number of post offices has been reduced from over 20,000 to just 11,500, and it could shrink even further.  As reported in This Is Money, research commissioned by the Communication Workers’ Union reveals that “up to 9,300 post offices could close as a result of the Government’s sell-off of the Royal Mail.”

The culture of closure in Britain has not been limited to post offices.  It includes police stations, schools, and hospitals.  Writing for the Guardian in March 2008, as 2,500 more post offices were slated for closing, Simon Jenkins described a “closure mania” that was gripping “every corner of Britain’s public service” and doing inestimable harm to the public realm.  “There is no way of measuring the impact on communities of thus ripping out their institutional memories and meeting places,” wrote Jenkins. “It must be savage.”

In Britain, people did not sit idly by as their post offices were closed.  There were demonstrations, you-tube videos, petition drives, Facebook pages, even sexy babes in bikinis, calling on fellow Brits to “save the post office.”  An organization called CAPOC – Communities Against Post Office Closures  was formed to track the closures and help communities fight to keep their post offices open.  The fight goes on, but the damage is impossible to repair.

“The government’s Orwellian hostility to the institutional identity of British communities,” concluded Jenkins in that Guardian piece, “can only promote alienation and indiscipline. It turns communities into bleak, car-reliant dormitories, devoid of places of casual association. It removes the informal leadership of the resident teacher, doctor, police officer, shopkeeper. What central government may think it saves in the general, it loses in the particular. It is in the particular that people live.”

(Photo credits, top to bottom: demonstration at top; PetitionsSave Our Post Office.org banner Munira with petitions)

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