Elizannie was extremely rude last night when the news broke that the Royal Mail stock market flotation is set to go ahead and commented with rather a naughty word on facebook. By the time she got to twitter she had managed to be a bit more measured and polite but still very annoyed.
So that her readers would not be offended, Elizannie decided to have a night's sleep before tackling the issue on the blog'o'sphere and will now resume the first person narration before said readers get really annoyed......
I have to declare an interest in this subject because all through my life there has been some family member working for the Royal Mail. At times there have been more than one postmen amongst my family members. So I know all about the unsocial hours and working through bad weather conditions and snappy dogs and snappy letter boxes. But lots of other jobs have disadvantages so we will leave those 'problems' there and concentrate on whether we still need a state owned mail delivery service.
When I was a small child in the 1950s, obviously the importance of the speed of mail delivery differed to the needs of the second decade of the 21st century. But a little recap of what it was like in the 1950s for those who are not as ancient as I!
A brief canter through the history of the postal service since WW2. In the early 1950s, very few homes had a telephone. 'Trippers' to the seaside on a day out could send a postcard home when they arrived and this postcard would usually be delivered by the afternoon mail, before the writer arrived home. 'Local' mail posted in the morning in a town would be delivered in that town by the afternoon mail [the 'second post'*] There was even a letter and a parcel delivery on Christmas Day. Really urgent messages [good and bad] were sent via telegram. With the growth of the telephone service telegram usage dropped and this service was discontinued by BT in 2003, but in the 1950s and 1960s the telegram boy was not an unusual sight on our streets.
*The second post was finally discontinued in 2001
Until 1968, a greetings card - on condition that it was simply signed 'from whoever' and not sealed, i.e. the flap of the envelope was 'tucked in' - could be posted at a lesser rate than the ordinary sealed letter. In July 1968 'First' and 'Second' class was introduced, which seriously disturbed the sensibilities of a budding Marxist such as me. It was explained as 'first' class mail, costing slightly more, would take priority over the less important 'second' class mail.
Of course in the 60 years since I was a child things have changed. Then very few houses had their own telephone and who would have dreamt that by the end of the century mobile 'phones would be in the majority of the population's pockets and handbags?! The world wide web and email has changed the mode of communications for both personal and business users.
But - and here's the thing - parcels and packets cannot be squeezed through cyber space. E-Birthday & Christmas cards cannot be displayed on the mantelpiece [unless printed out when they tend to fall over..] Surprisingly, people do still write letters - business and personal. Not everyone has access to the internet. So there will always be a need for a delivery service that will cover all parts of the country.
[Break here for 'phone call from Other Half and listen to his diatribe against Royal Mail Privatisation. Repeatedly interrupt with 'I know' a la Sybil Fawlty]
About thirty years ago, monopoly of the delivery of parcels was taken from the Royal Mail and now there are many delivery services of differing efficacy. Due to Other Half's employment, we often have up to three or four of these so called services calling at our door per day. Without being biased [honestly] the best of these is undoubtedly provided by the Royal Mail/Parcel Force and they cover all areas. They may not always be the cheapest but they are the most reliable. The others are so profit-led that they will not deliver to out of the way places or take awkward/unusual cargo. They do not offer a full, country wide service.
A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, 1938. The basket contains mail unloaded from the Canadian Pacific Railways liner Duchess of Bedford at Greenock. Beginning its journey in places such as New Zealand and China, once unloaded, the mail was then sorted in the open air ‘sorting office’ of the Princes Pier before being despatched for delivery across the United Kingdom. (POST 118/851)
So why am I so anti Privatisation of the Royal Mail? Where do I start? Well let's look at the other 'public services' that have been privatised, for a start.
[Break off to answer the door to the Parcel Force man bearing a parcel. Have a nice chat with him including him having a look around our caravan which is parked in the front garden. I kid you not...]
The energy & water companies were ticking along quite nicely as public services when the then Conservative government decided to privatise them. The Government made it sound as if they were offering the electorate a 'get rich scheme'. And who owns most of the shares now? Foreign businesses. And what has happened to the prices now that we have 'competitive' businesses which 'compete' to give us lower prices? Answers on a postcard, posted in a Royal Mail box please.
[I couldn't make this up - I broke off here to check an email which has just arrived. To my absolute fury it is offering me the chance to register an interest in buying shares in Royal Mail. This is really rubbing salt into the wound, especially as I am ideologically opposed to share dealing]
Another 'bad' privatisation example, the bus service. I live in a smallish village and after privatisation we have several companies competing on some of the old routes whilst others - presumably less profitable and/or at 'awkward' times are not covered at all. So we no longer have bus services, we have bus companies intent on making profits.
My opposition to the privatisation of the Royal Mail - if I haven't made it quite clear - is basically that one cannot expect services to always be profitable. My fears are that once the control of the Royal Mail passes into the hands of those who care less about service provision and the welfare of their employees and more about the profit & loss accounts and balance sheets we will see a deterioration in service, a rise in prices and a worsening in employment terms.
The Communion Workers Union has been fighting these plans for quite a while and have issued a statement today which can be read here.
[There is a question still not fully answered about the Royal Mail Pension Plan which has been in deficit which I will leave for another day]
The British Postal Museum & Archive