I bought my first post office in 1998 in Low Moor, Bradford. This was my first business venture and I had no previous post office experience whatsoever. However, when researching the process of purchasing a post office, I was strongly advised by my local Subpostmaster to join the National Federation of Subpostmasters, which I duly did on the first day I was appointed.
I attended my first NFSP branch meeting in Bradford within a month of taking over the branch. The meeting was held in the function room of a local pub and was so well attended, it was standing room only. I soon realised that everyone had the same issues that I had in running a post office and it felt like I had acquired a second family. The whole ethos of the committee was subpostmasters helping subpostmasters. Immediately, I received help with every aspect of running a post office, for example, transactional technicalities, business and financial advice and support, information regarding trusted suppliers and alerts regarding local and national scams and fraudulent activity. The first few months were extremely tough, however, the senior officials within the branch had many years of experience and I really felt that whatever the issue, I always had someone to ask for help or support.
Within a year, I was invited to join the branch committee with local meetings held on a monthly basis and branch meeting held every three months. Within the Bradford area at that time there were around 200 post offices branches. I was aware that there were many new subpostmasters coming into the business and I wanted to pass on all the knowledge that I had gained and offer my support as it was still a learning curve for me, as much as for them. Most problems were easily resolved, but if I did not know that answer, I could easily escalate the problem to branch, or even regional representatives. I was also involved in actively promoting the federation as I genuinely believed, as I still do today, that this organisation is the right organisation to represent the interests of Subpostmasters.
In 2002, I was elected Assistant Branch Secretary and then President of the Bradford Amalgamated Branch. I started becoming involved in the North East Regional Council and attended the national annual conferences as a delegate. At this time, the Horizon system was very new. Many subpostmasters had never used a computer and had been working manually for decades. The introduction of this new technology was a big deal to many and the federation stepped up to the plate and helped out their members at every stage. The Post Office training and ongoing support was standard across post offices. For most Subpostmasters, this was sufficient and they were able to change over to the computerised system. However, other subpostmasters struggled with the system and the ongoing support provided by the Post Office was inadequate for them. As an example of my input, along with fellow members, we developed a support group which helped Subpostmasters with balancing on Wednesday afternoons. I remember this vividly as an extremely busy period, sometimes driving to up to four branches each Wednesday to help postmasters that were having difficulties with the balancing procedure. We were also available 24/7 to answer calls, which often necessitated a visit to the branch. At no point did we as a group find a problem that could not be resolved or for which there was no explanation. The spirit of subpostmasters helping subpostmasters really came to the fore.
In 2005, Low Moor Branch was closed under the Network Reinvention Programme and I subsequently relocated to Chapel-en-le-Frith in the Peak District. This was a bigger office with a Royal Mail delivery office attached. I once again became involved in the local branch of the NSFP and also the North West Regional Council. During my fifteen years here, I have held various positions within the South East Manchester Branch and regionally, including Branch secretary, Regional secretary, Regional president , Chair of the NFSP Benevolent Fund and Members’ Editor of The Subpostmaster magazine. Within all of these roles, I have helped and supported Subpostmasters on a daily basis, on anything from trivial matters to major issues, such as robberies and contractual issues with Post Office Limited. The support I myself have received from the NFSP executive council has proved itself, on many occasions, to be invaluable.
In October 2014, I was elected by the membership of the North West Region, to be their representative on the National Executive Council. Since then, the Federation has changed from having trade union status to becoming a trade association and I am currently Non-Executive Director for the North West Region and elected National Chairman. For the last six years, I have voraciously represented members, both regionally and nationally, on a wide range of issues, including contractual issues (e.g. culpability and capability), staff issues (e.g. staff dishonesty and general HR issues), balancing issues (e.g. resolving errors or helping to identify the cause of discrepancies), operational issues (e.g. logistics and office resources), crime (responding to major criminal incidents such as armed robberies and ongoing crime prevention), personal issues (e.g. health, financial and other benevolent problems) and, most recently, Subpostmasters’ challenges relating to the Coronavirus crisis.
I can’t stress enough the approachability and availability of the senior officials within this organisation. From the very beginning of my involvement with the Federation, I can honestly say that I have received a call almost every day from a Subpostmaster with a problem or concern. Over the last six years, I have sat with and represented at least 60 members in contractual meetings with Post Office Limited. Just this week, I have presented a virtual Teams meeting with about 100 members (regarding The Historical Shortfall Scheme, post office remuneration and ongoing Government support during the Coronavirus), had virtual meetings with other senior NFSP officials (to discuss ongoing support for members during this crisis), taken individual calls from members (everything from ongoing Furlough advice, individual remuneration issues, worries concerning the future level of travel and banking transactions and even logistical issues such a as a current shortage of printer cartridges within branches) , had a phone call with a Post Office Limited Contracts Manager (with regards to the reinstatement of a suspended Subpostmaster) and have spoken to a Post Office Area Sales manager (with regard to the printer issue!). I would describe this a typical week in the life of a Non-Executive Director.
I have always found the NFSP to be a highly professional, highly motivated, strategic and competent organisation, with its member’s interests at the heart. I am proud to be both a member and to be in a position to represent other members.
Tim Boothman, Subpostmaster