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Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2012

The Post Office wants to become the ‘front office of government’, for both central departments and local authorities. PSE spoke to Martin Moran, commercial director, about its latest deal, which will see its branches offer residents of Hammersmith & Fulham services they only used to be able to get at council offices.

A “win-win-win” – that’s how the Post Office’s Martin Moran describes its new partnership with Hammersmith & Fulham Council to offer transactional services via its branches, saying it will benefit his organisation, the council, and residents.

He seems to be onto something: it’s not every day that citizens take to local websites to describe council initiatives as “one of the most sensible suggestions by a council I have ever heard”, “a very good idea”, “a great development”, and “makes huge practical sense” – especially ones which save the council money too.

Moran, commercial director at the Post Office, spoke to PSE about the tie-up, which will mean that from later this year, instead of having to go to the council offices to make transactions like paying council tax, business rates, housing rents and service charges, H&F residents will be able to do it at one of the 17 Post Office branches in the borough – or indeed at any of the more than 11,500 branches around the country, if they choose.

Estimated savings are around £90,000 from 2013/14, the council says. Moran said: “Because of the volume and scale of our business, we can conduct those transactions for councils cheaper than they can do it themselves. They can then take those savings and re-invest them in other council services.

“Effectively, we have a menu of services we can offer to pretty much any local authority, based on the types of services we offer to customers generally: they’re very transactional services. They tend to involve cash, but not necessarily, and they’re completely replicable across the country. Our strategy is to allow central government departments, government agencies and local authorities to take advantage of what we believe are unique, publicly-owned assets – the Post Office branches.”

He noted that the branches in H&F generally open earlier than the council offices, close later, and are also open on Saturday mornings. Some of the H&F branches will also benefit from the wider Network Transformation Programme, under which £1.34bn is being spent to improve around 6,500 UK branches, including big extensions of opening hours, many to an 8am- 8pm service and open on both Saturdays and Sundays.

Asked whether Post Office branches could cope with an influx of new customers without hitting queuing times, Moran said: “Because of the history of the Post Office, people do associate particular times of the day with long queues. But our average wait time across the country now is well below 4m30; that’s a fact, we measure it week-in, week-out. With regard to these particular services, we’ve got no real concerns about any additional queuing, because we’re moving from one or two council offices offering this, to 17 Post Offices spread throughout the council area. It’s better for customers in terms of access.”

The Post Office has a similar deal with Westminster City Council and is keen to do more public sector work. Moran said: “We haven’t got any other deals in the offing at the moment, though we do have a pipeline of potential business and I’d be very surprised if I was sitting here in a year’s time without a number of other success stories we could talk about. As the Government and local authorities are looking to find more and more efficiencies in the way they deal with their customers, they will look increasingly to the Post Office, because of the amount of money we can save them, our number of access points, the speed of delivery of services, security and trust in the Post Office brand.”

He added: “Over the last 16 months, we’ve bid for eight very substantial pieces of work in the public sector, and we’ve won all eight.”

Since most branches are run by self-employed businesspeople living locally, getting more transactions into branches also boosts the economy of an area, he said.

Asked about oversight of the initially four-year deal with H&F, Moran said: “Ultimately, it will be the customers that decide. All of our metrics, and all of our KPIs, and how we judge success, will be based on customer satisfaction as the primary driver.”

The council and Post Office are working jointly on communicating the changes to residents and customers, and there will likely be an overlap period where services are available both at the council offices and branches. Moran said: “We do have to be sensitive to it: we don’t want people turning up at council offices when the facility isn’t there any more.

“We’ll only be satisfied when customers tell us they like this new service.

“This is us working as a front office for government.”

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