I had an interesting meeting last week with George Thomson, the general secretary of the National Union of Subpostmasters to discuss what steps would need to be taken to create a viable network of post offices if Post Office Ltd is split from Royal mail. I have always been opposed to the privatising of Royal Mail, even if Post Office Limited is to remain in public hands, but I was extremely concerned at the large number of local and rural post office closures under Labour and of the increasing deterioration of Royal Mail’s financial position. The Decision to allow private companies to run the parts of Royal Mail that are profitable without requiring them to also run the equally essential but loss-making parts combined with the ongoing reduction in the number of items sent by post has led us to the situation that we are in today. Whatever the mistakes of the past I am interested in looking at any solution that will ensure that there is no reduction in the number of post offices and that a universal postal service is maintained.
George had a number of ideas that would make running post offices more profitable and avoid closures. In particular he hoped that more government functions such as the verification and processing of benefit claims could be run by local post offices. He also was adamant that Post Office Limited had to be left in a strong position prior to its splitting from Royal Mail.
There are a large number of myths around the privatisation of Royal Mail. The privatisaiton of Royal Mail will NOT lead to post office closures, Post Office Ltd and Royal Mail are separate businesses and Post Office Ltd is NOT for sale. Further a privatised Royal Mail will be regulated to ensure that it provides a universal postal service – that is delivery and collection six days per week at uniform and affordable prices.
The number of items being sent by post has fallen by 15% in the last five years and is predicted to fall by a further 25-40% over the next five years. If Royal Mail is to survive, it desperately needs an injection of cash to help it modernise further and faster to help it improve its profitability in a highly competitive market. However, if the privatisation of Royal Mail does go ahead it is essential that it is done in a way that ensures a viable future for the Post Office network that does so much to provide both essential services and social cohesion to local communities.