Lindsay Mackie is a consultant at nef. She is leading nef’s post office campaign and works on Clone Town and Ghost Town Britain.
In a week when the Government has finally joined the millions of us who see Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd as an essential public service which needs to be strengthened and extended in the services it offers, you have to hand it to PostComm. They’ve come out fighting today for the past. Discredited ideas? Step right in. Postcomm will give you a warm hearing.
Today sees the release of the eighth annual report from PostComm – the regulator for the Post Office. You might think that PostComm’s job was to keep the Post Office efficient, on time, that sort of thing. But since its inception in 2000, Postcomm has set up as deregulator in chief. It has trumpeted the virtues of competition, of breaking up Royal Mail, of letting in private competitors who can deliver mail and parcels for the final mile, leaving it to Royal Mail to carry out all the other work to ensure delivery for that final mile.
Not surprisingly, this genius scheme has led to domestic customers and small businesses paying more for a worse service while corporate clients take advantage of the ‘final mile’ deal more cheaply.
Their latest stupid contribution to the debate on the future of our Post Office is to suggest that Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd be de-merged. It joins their other ideas like forcing Royal Mail to pay VAT, and predicting that many private companies would want to build their own ‘end to end’ mail systems, rather than cannibalizing Royal Mail’s work. Unsurprisingly no company wanted to spend their own money when they could make use of Royal Mail’s.
This de-merger really would be the death knell of a decent Post Office network. Royal Mail needs the post office to provide a universal service while the Post Office remains dependent on Royal Mail for approximately a third of its revenue. Separation would threaten not strengthen this revenue stream.
But then what can we expect from a regulator which has been consistently wrong about the supposed benefits of Post Office liberalisation (really, really wrong) and whose description of the national rage and anguish at the Post Office closure programme is this: “The high profile reaction to post office closures throughout the UK serves as testament to the public’s attachment to their local post office.”
Postcomm should be re-designed (with two exceptions, its Commissioners are from the worlds of huge corporations, investment banking and European de-regulation) and told to stick to the honest work of ensuring that we have a Post Office that millions of us want, and help this institution flourish to that end.