Government minister for government enterprises Petra De Sutter has put the brakes on a plan by Bpost to turn post offices into a new sort of corner shop.
Earlier this week, Bpost floated the idea of allowing post offices to sell other goods besides stamps and postal necessities like padded envelopes.
Part of a strategy known as ‘Connect’ announced by CEO Jean-Paul Van Avermaet, the plan would allow customers to pick up a newspaper, a loaf of bread or a bar of chocolate while visiting the post office.
The strategy would also involve paying out less of a dividend to shareholders and more investment, with an emphasis on the service’s community role. Strikingly, it comes after decades of cuts which have seen the number of post offices in the country fall sharply. Bpost now has some services, like parcel post, installed inside corner shops – the exact reverse of the new Connect plan.
The idea was met with surprise by Buurtsuper.be, the sector federation for small shopkeepers.
“Maybe they could start by correctly reimbursing the local shops that already exist for the parcels they keep until the customer comes to collect them,” said director Luc Ardies.
“Local shops are buried under parcels, but they do not earn much, because Bpost pays very low rates. And yet those stores do it as a service to their customers.”
Open VLD president Egbert Lachaert tweeted: “A state-owned company should not compete with the small self-employed trader who pays taxes to finance that same state-owned company. Fundamentally dishonest!”
Now Petra De Sutter, minister for government enterprises with direct authority over Bpost, has stepped in to quash the plan before it gets started.
“That is not my vision of what Bpost should be doing,” she said.
“I can reassure Mr Lachaert: Bpost is definitely not competing with the middle class. Mr. Van Avermaet released a very small balloon that was inflated way too much. But it is certainly true that we consider the local branch network to be very important. That is why we have postponed the new management agreement to the end of 2021: to define that role even more clearly.”