The chief executive of a company which shut dozens of Post Offices – including five in Aberdeen’s most deprived communities – has been slammed for calling the decision “the best in many years”.
Earlier this year we revealed CJ Lang, which operates Spar stores in Scotland, was planning to end an agreement with Post Office, which operated counters in 31 branches.
Several communities in Aberdeen were affected, including Torry, Kincorth, Seaton, Northfield and Clifton Road.
Despite pledging to keep communities updated, it emerged in August that CJ Lang would close the Torry and Seaton counters with less than a day’s notice – leading to accusations the company was “abandoning” vulnerable residents.
‘Kick in teeth’ for communities
Now, in what has been described as a “kick in the teeth” for the city, the firm’s chief executive Colin McLean has described the decision as “the best” it has taken “in many years”.
He claimed having Post Office counters in stores led to “complications” for managers – and said closing them would allow them to focus on profit.
In the interview with the Better Retailing website, Mr McLean added: “Allowing stores to focus on a profitable business that drives customers in makes sense.”
Mr McLean also confirmed reports the counters would be replaced by hot food takeaways, which earlier led to campaigners accusing CJ Lang of putting “greed before need”.
He said: “There’s plenty of issues.
“We’re trying to keep it as simple as possible for the managers to run and focus on actually putting in profitable business.
“Food to go is a good example of where we’re replacing a loss-making proposition with a profitable one which actually drives footfall.”
His comments were slammed by north-east Conservative MSP Douglas Lumsden, who has made repeated calls for the counters to be kept open.
Post Office closures ‘catastrophic’
The former city council co-leader claimed the closures would be “catastrophic” for the city.
“I’m shocked and disappointed at these comments which are a kick in the teeth to the customers and staff who work at these branches,” Mr Lumsden said.
“It’s vital the Post Office works with operators like CJ Lang to stop more closures from happening in Aberdeen.
“My fear is if they don’t, we will soon be left with just the one main branch in the city centre which would be catastrophic for communities who don’t have closer access.
“The Post Office is relying on local shops and chains to have the infrastructure in place to offer these essential services which are part of the footfall of our high streets.”
Communities ‘heartbroken’ by decision
Fiona Campbell, who campaigned against the closure of Seaton Post Office, said the community had been left “heartbroken” by the loss of the counter, which came just weeks after the loss of its last bank.
“We always knew this was about money rather customers,” she added.
“People here have kept that shop going for years and have added to their profits. Now they are being swept aside.
“Every time CJ Lang talk about this it’s about money. They don’t think about the customers.”
Last month we revealed CJ Lang had turned down financial support from Post Office executives to keep offering services at its stores.
The organisation said it is making “good progress” finding replacements for the closed counters.
However, bosses said the closures would disproportionately affect elderly and vulnerable residents.
“We were disappointed by CJ Lang’s decision to close 31 counters as we know that having a Post Office in a convenience store drives significant footfall and is highly desired by other operators for its commercial and community benefits,” a spokesman said.
“Post Offices are at the heart of local communities across Scotland. Older, vulnerable or disabled people rely on our services. The decision taken by CJ Lang could potentially place some communities at risk of having nowhere to safely and securely withdraw and deposit their cash.”