For the first time in 100 years, Stornoway town centre could be without a Post Office.
The Post Office Ltd have announced plans to seek retail partners for 70 of their Crown Offices, including the Francis Street branch, as part of their business transformation programme.
This means the service could move in with a local retailer and speculation is mounting that the Co-operative could be interested in this idea for the Macaulay Road store.
A spokesperson for the Co-operative would not confirm specific discussions over the Stornoway Crown Office this week but said: “We currently operate successful and popular Post Office services from 275 Co-operative Food stores, and we would welcome the opportunity to offer this service to more of our customers across the UK. However, at present it is too early to discuss specific sites.”
The Post Office stress that if a retail partner is not found for the Stornoway Post Office it would remain at its current location on Francis Street, where it has been since 1912, and that any proposal to move it would involve a six week consultation period.
Local politicians have expressed concern about the adverse effect the loss of the Post Office could have on the town centre.
Stornoway councillor Charlie Nicolson said: “We want to keep the Post Office within the town to safeguard those using the town centre. If we take it out of the town centre the town could become even quieter.”
Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell also voiced concern and said he would be writing to the Post Office.
Angus B MacNeil MP said: “In 2012, Stornoway Post Office won the title ‘Best Performing Branch in the UK’ and their award from the Post Office now seems to be that they want to dismember it.
“I will be asking the Post Office to come and talk to the local community before any further decisions are made on the future of the Crown Post Office on Francis Street which is in the centre of Stornoway and as good a high street location as you could get.
“I am sure the community will rally round and support the Post Office in Stornoway in the weeks and months ahead.”
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan is also concerned and said he would be meeting with the Post Office and making the case for keeping a Crown Office in the Western Isles.
Despite the Stornoway Post Office being identified as a target for potential partnering, Crown Offices in other Scottish island towns such as Lerwick and Kirkwall have not been included and the Post Office Ltd say this is due to the criteria used for selection.
They state that the 70 branches were chosen for the following reasons - there is little scope to increase efficiences; it is difficult to grow Post Office income in this particular location; property costs can be reduced; and/or the branch is in an area where it could be attractive for a retail partner to generate footfall.
If the Francis Street Post Office was partnered with a retailer there are some concerns for the future of employees who could be subject to altered terms and conditions of employment in the long term.
The Post Office however point out that moving branches into retailers will modernise the space, making them open plan and with longer opening hours where possible.
A Post Office spokesperson said: “Crown branches are a fundamental part of our long term growth strategy and need to be brought into profit (currently operating at a £40m annual loss). To maintain our high street presence we will be looking to find retail partners for 70 of our branches enabling us to stay in these locations.”
She added: “The Post Office works successfully with many retail partners. We already have over 3,000 branches across the UK where customers are accessing services in this way. If no retail partner is found we are still committed to having a Crown Post Office within the area. This is not a closure programme and there are no compulsory redundancies planned as part of this strategy.”
The fate of the Bayhead Post Office, beside the Co-operative store, is the subject of ongoing discussion following the outcome of a consultation where the Post Office decided it would not be moved to Engebrets Filling Station on Sandwick Road.