The Chief Minister says the relocation of the island’s two main post offices could have been handled better.
An e-petition to save the Douglas Regent Street and Ramsey Courthouse branches from closure has attracted more than 1,000 signatures.
The petition by Save our Post Offices reads: ‘This is an absolute disgrace and travesty.
‘We need the post offices more than ever these days. We need to stand up and fight for what we believe in. This is time for the island to unite and stand together against unjust decisions being made without any thought to the man/woman on the street.
‘The post offices are part of our community and need to be saved.’
On Wednesday evening, more than 100 people attended a meeting of the town’s commissioners to protest at the closure.
Lib Van Ramsey commissioner Lawrie Hooper said the news had come as a bombshell and claimed it had been deliberately concealed from the public for months.
He said: ‘The Post Office is the heart of Ramsey, and this appalling decision to relocate away from the iconic Courthouse building could do irreparable damage to the town.’
Post Office bosses announced last week that the two branches were to be converted into sub post offices and ‘repositioned’ into nearby Spar shops in a deal agreed with Mannin Retail which has agreed to take on the 19 staff affected.
Mr Bell criticised the way the Post Office had announced the changes to the public and its staff, saying it had been done in a ‘most unfortunate manner’. ‘It could have been handled better,’ he said.
‘It should have been made clear there are no job losses and the range of services is going to be exactly the same as we have now.
‘I’m as unhappy as anyone that the Post Office has made this decision. It certainly raises concerns with me in Ramsey where the building is so prominent and is a central part of the regeneration scheme. It is absolutely vital if the changes go ahead, we have to make sure the building is put to good commercial use and not simply left empty.’
He said the Post Office, which is facing increased competition and lost its £1m contract with Reader’s Digest a few years ago, was going through an ‘extremely difficult time’.
The core business had to be protected within the resources available, he said, adding the Post Office is a commercial operation run at arm’s length to the government.
Replying to an urgent question tabled by Lib Van leader Kate Beecroft in Tynwald last week, Post Office chairman Graham Cregeen MHK said the two post office branches were losing £500,000 a year, and transferring the operation to the nearby Spar stores in a contract with Mannin Retail will save £300,000 in the first year.
A spokesman for the Post Office confirmed there had been no prior consultation.
She said: ‘Due to sensitivity and political advice we did not consult with anyone about the details of the plan. However, meetings have taken place with both Ramsey and Douglas Commissioners over the last few days.’
National officer for the Communication Workers’ Union, Terry Pullinger has called for the relocation to be delayed.
Unite union regional officer Eric Holmes described the move as ‘unchallenged privatisation’ and claimed that staff were being unfairly dismissed.
He said: ‘I am losing faith that the current government is in balanced control or listening to trade unions and the general public’s outcry.
‘The decision to privatise should have been indicated to the unions. I believe the staff are not being made redundant, they are being unfairly dismissed.
‘While Spar are giving reassurances they will re-recruit from the staff dismissed all that is happening is a dismissal and re-engagement under what term and conditions?’