The Post Office has been forced to issue an apology after threatening postmasters with financial penalties. In a letter leaked to the Conservative Party, the Post Office warns postmasters that undercover officials will be visiting post offices to see whether official responses were given to questions about branch closure. If ‘key messages’ were not ‘being delivered in an accurate and professional manner’, the branch risked losing its compensation package, should it be selected for closure, which could be worth around £60,000.

The letter, that was sent to thousands of branches, was written by Sue Huggins, the director responsible for the ‘Network Change Programme’, and came complete with pages of ‘key messages’ that must be delivered to customers who asked about the Post Office branch closure programme, that is due to affect 2,500 branches.

‘We apologise for this,’ said a Post Office spokesperson, ‘and will be writing to sub-postmasters next week confirming that. We would like to make it clear that we will not be doing anonymous testing, that’s not going to happen – it was never going to happen.’

However, the Conservatives were quick to condemn the letter: ‘It is not appropriate in a free country for a national employer like the Post Office to use the tactics of the secret police to demand Maoist conformity to their line’ said Shadow Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Secretary Alan Duncan. ‘Explaining their view is one thing, but to go around spying on their branches and employees is quite sick.’

George Thomson, who is general secretary of the National Federation of Sub-postmasters, said that he appreciated that this was an ‘error of judgement’, and that he expected all postmasters to receive individual apologies soon.