So the postal service is to be flogged off – minus its pension liabilities, just to sweeten the pill and leave We The People with the furry end of the lollipop – with the deed to be done before the next General Election. We have been here before, the comparator event being when “Shagger” Major intoned the wonderfully dishonest “Of course, British Rail is deeply inefficient” before the rail sell-offs started.
Fortunately, with Vince Cable making the announcement yesterday, there was a more factual approach – BR under Bob Reid was a place where managers had to make efficiency savings year on year, or he would kick them sideways and get someone in who could – but the thought has entered with some pundits that selling the Royal Mail might not be A Very Good Idea.
Sure, there was a time – I’m going back to the mid-70s here – when the central post office in any city or large town was the last place on earth you would go if in search of half-decent customer service (barring the local railway station, that is). But both industries improved immeasurably in the following years. The post office in Crewe scores well for its “customer experience”. I doubt this is an isolated example.
And, since the sell-offs, I can’t say that customer service is much changed on the railways. The staff do their best, most pundits go away happy, but there will always be a few who hate the idea of travelling in close proximity to other human beings without the luxury of deafening them, smoking them out, or making as big a mess of the place as is humanly possible.
Moreover, the problem in selling the Royal Mail is going to be, as with the railways, making sure that the service delivered after the sale is up to spec. With rail, that has meant that, effectively, the timetables are nowadays written if not by Government officials, then at least with their approval. None of that “canning a few trains outside the peak and in the evening to save a few quid” allowed.
So what is the Government going to require for the collection and delivery of letters and parcels? We’re already down to one postal delivery a day, with none on Sunday. Will there be more cutbacks? What about the cost of stamps? Will the new owner be given free rein to charge what they like? Will there be further constraints on letter size? What about the future of those tens of thousands of workers?
Many delivery staff are already working 12-hour days on a regular basis. If the new owner is expecting to make efficiency savings through staff cuts, they may have another think coming (cutting driver numbers by some train operators was soon reversed after customer resistance to all the cancelled trains). So never mind the share handouts, Vince, show us the detail before you flog it off.
Because right now, as YouGov has noted, the public is not convinced.