08 February 2006

Postal strike putting squeeze on business

Belfast Telegraph

By Deborah McAleese
08 February 2006

The financial affects of the postal strike are beginning to hit Ulster's business owners and consumers who rely on the service to receive or make a payment.

With no Northern Ireland mail making it outside the province or to the greater parts of Belfast, bill payers are being advised to seek alternative methods to settle their accounts to avoid any late payment fines.

And calls have been made for government intervention to try and resolve the dispute before small businesses across the province face further financial difficulties or further disruption.

Royal Mail has warned that special delivery items posted within the province are currently not being delivered. However, managers are attempting to deliver special delivery items posted in Great Britain for addresses here, including all of Belfast.

And mail posted outside Belfast for delivery in Northern Ireland, with the exception of north, south and west Belfast, should still be delivered.

Thousands of small businesses are beginning to feel the affects of the dispute, with many facing cash flow difficulties because they have not received any cheques.

Barry Carson, a member of the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), who runs a company that recycles toner cartridges and printers in north Belfast, said he is currently waiting for more than £8,000 in cheques to be delivered.

"This is putting huge pressure on the cash flow of my business. In addition, with not being able to post parcels to my customers as well, I estimate that I have lost more than £1,000 in business in the last week, which is a big amount to a small business which only employs nine people.

"It is hard enough running a business in Northern Ireland without having to put up with this disruption."

FSB north and west Belfast branch chairman Harry McGimpsey, said he is extremely concerned about the situation and called on Trade and Investment minister Angela Smith to get involved.

He added: "Throughout Belfast our members are facing considerable disruption to their business and want to see this strike brought to an end before any further damage is done to the local economy. This is something the Government cannot ignore any further."

Thousands of credit card customers are facing late payment charges if payments by post get caught up in the dispute.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has advised bill payers, who are worried that any payments may not arrive in time, to contact the company and try to make alternative arrangements.

A spokeswoman said: "For anyone concerned about making urgent payments they should phone their creditors and explain the situation and discuss alternative arrangements."

Royal Mail customers should contact the helpline on 08457 740 740 for further information and advice.

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