We must keep the Post public

by Amanda Ramsay

Yesterday the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee published Post Office Network Transformation: a progress report, scrutinising controversial plans to change post office services. It makes stark reading for users of postal services and postal workers alike.

From this summer, many consumers across the UK will see a new model of post office in their area known as a Post Office Local, moving services to within existing retail premises, such as shops and garages. The so called “Local model” will not offer the full product range of traditional sub-post offices, leaving hundreds of postmasters and their communities facing the loss of core post office services.

Billy Hayes, Communication Workers Union (CWU) general secretary, is calling for a moratorium on any formal rollout of the Locals model and says: “If this programme marches ahead, post offices close and then services fail, it will either be costly to re-open a post office or will leave communities without these services.”

The Locals model would have simply been rolled out, had it not been for the work of the MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee and the CWU, who asked the committee to carry out this review.

This Tory-led government wasted no time in getting to work on privatising postal services. Something even Margaret Thatcher hesitated to do. The Postal Services Act (2011) allows the government to privatise the Royal Mail. The Post Office is already operating as an independent company as of this year, with little noticeable political discussion or dissent. There needs to be a high profile public campaign to protect this valued institution.

Right-wing calls for these changes to post office services date back to 2010 when the government made a policy announcement: “Securing the Post Office Network in the Digital Age”. One of the arguments advanced at the time was that the rise of e-mail correspondence had reduced the need for post office services. But, the huge rise of internet shopping says otherwise, as parcel traffic is at a high.

The public are clearly on the side of keeping the post public. A YouGov poll in 2010 showed 60 per cent believe the Royal Mail should remain a wholly publicly-owned organisation. Post office closures damage community life. I know from first-hand experience, when serving as a councillor, how popular local post offices are, when I defended the closure of my local sub-post office.

Both government and Post Office Ltd need to preserve the vital community role the post office plays and recognise specific local requirements.

In parts of Bristol South where I live the bus system is too sketchy to get elderly or disabled people to post offices outside of the immediate vicinity.

Postal services are such a vital lifeline to the elderly, disabled and people cut off by poor public transport or living in remote communities. The committee recognises this: “Some post offices may never achieve financial independence. These post offices often deliver some of the most vital services to rural or deprived areas. They cannot and should not be ignored.”

Social inclusion aside, what of costs?

We’ve already seen postal service prices go up this year. With a first-class stamp going up to 60p, the writing’s on the wall for future costs if the Royal Mail is run as a private business.

With record profits and £28 billion pension fund handed to the Treasury this year, it is clear: the goose is being fattened ready for market. But we all know what privatisation usually means, job losses, worse terms and conditions for workers, scaled-back services and price hikes for the consumer.

Look at the privatisation of the utilities, my water and gas bills are sky-high.

An ICM poll last year found that 78 per cent of the public believed selling Royal Mail would be a bad deal for the taxpayer. Not only do we need the public to keep ownership, because remember we own this service already, but recognise fears over services being reduced, as less profitable post offices and services are cut back.

Where do we go from here?

Is proper mutualisation, not privatisation, now the only game in town, to avoid mass privatisations and redundancies in an age of austerity?

The Co-Op party might think so, but with the government consultation process still underway, we don’t know what model of mutualisation is on offer so co-operators and campaigners within the CWU are naturally cautious.

The real concern is that the Locals model could significantly harm Post Office services. Hayes warns: “The Locals model will only work for large companies like Tesco through their convenience store network which could suck in limited services and change the ethos of the publicly-owned Post Office forever.”

Amanda Ramsay was a council cabinet member for equalities and social inclusion and is development officer for Bristol South Labour party

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3 Responses to “We must keep the Post public”

  1. Nick says:

    We need to offload the pensions debt back onto the post office.

    There is no way that the public should have to carry the cost of 35 billion.

    That’s half the cost of the bank bailout.

    The post office should carry all that cost, since they are responsible and the public shouldn’t be forced to bail them out. That also applies to the banks as well.

  2. paul green says:


    Think you are confusing Royal Mail and Post Office. 97% of Post Offices are run by self employed people who do not have pensions. They do however pay into the pension pot for those civil servants who supposedly run the Post Office in London.

  3. Dorcas Perry says:

    The Royal Mail does a good job. It, for me, represents the best of what is, or increasingly was good about Britain. My instinct tells me that privatization will not be a good thing. STANDARDS will slip. The wrong type of person will take over and the wrong culture will develop.

    The trouble is, now manufacturing has been sent abroad, many that used to run the place have to find something else for their kids to make money out of. What is left to exploit?

    Energy generation, transport, housing, agriculture, charities, the arts, finance, government, sport and other public services.

    Sweat shop types would not have considered many of these areas in the past. There was little money in it for the management, who were expected to serve the nation. Privatization culture has opened things up.
    Even schools these days are supposed to be run like businesses.

    The trouble is, many organizations these-days are not proper private businesses. They have little or no competition. They are allowed too much self regulation and are allowed to operate cartels. We are constantly being required to bail them out and pay for their capital investment. Governments interfere with their operations in a way that is questionable. Should gas companies be told to install new boilers into the houses of private landlords for free, for example?

    I can say no to a replacement TV or a dishwasher, but I can’t say no to having a water supply. I can’t say no to the government bailing out HBOS. I can’t say no to needing an appendix operation.

    All encompassing re- nationalization is probably not the answer. All encompassing privatization probably isn’t either. Whatever the Royal Mail is now – is fine. It works in the competitive environment it finds itself in. Study it, respect it, nurture it, copy it.
    Thats all I know.

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