By Bob Duncan
The Post Office delivery service to remote and rural parts of Scotland is under threat from Westminster plans to privatise the Royal Mail, say the SNP, as the Universal Service obligation is quietly dropped.
SNP MP Mike Weir has called upon the UK government to ensure that the Universal Service obligation is protected and has said that current moves to introduce an “end-to-end” service posed a real threat to the service which could be a disaster for many areas of Scotland.
The Universal Service Obligation is responsible for safeguarding the one price goes anywhere, affordable postal service to all UK addresses. It is regulated by Ofcom.
The Postal Services Act 2011 sets out the minimum requirements the Universal Service provider must deliver. These are statutory. They can only be altered with the consent of the UK Parliament. The minimum requirements are:
- At least one delivery of letters every Monday to Saturday to every address in the UK
- At least one collection of letters every Monday to Saturday from every access point in the UK that is used to receive letters and postal packets for onward transmission
- Postal services at an affordable, uniform tariff across the UK
- A registered items service at an affordable public tariff
- An insured items service at an affordable public tariff
- A free-of-charge postal service to blind or partially sighted people
- Free carriage of legislative petitions and addresses
- Postal Packets ≤20kg
The Royal Mail is the designated provider of the Universal Service until at least 2021 (10 years from the passing of the Postal Services Act 2011).
Westminster plans will allow commercial companies to bid for so-called “end-to-end” deliveries in major cities, which can be among the most profitable, leading to fears that the loss of revenue will leave the Royal Mail unable to afford its Universal Service obligations without dramatic increases in postal prices.
Last month, a report published by Citizens Advice Scotland showed that people living in many remote and rural areas of Scotland are being forced to pay extra money to have goods bought online delivered to their homes – with many courier companies charging huge premiums or simply refusing to deliver to certain post-codes.
This pattern of discriminatory charging by many online retailers and delivery companies is currently being investigated by the Department of Trade and Industry, following pressure from Western Isles politicians, Angus B Macneil MP and Dr Alisdair Allan MSP.
Mr Weir has lodged an Early Day Motion, supported by the Communications Workers Union, pointing out the dangers and calling for urgent action. The motion has won widespread support from many parties in the House of Commons.
Commenting on the matter Mr Weir said:
“During the busy Christmas and New Year period, we should all reflect on just how vital a universal postal service is to us.
“The Royal Mail service is, however, vital to many at all times of the year and the privatisation plans of the present UK government poses a real threat to the continuation of the universal service.
“At present the Royal Mail is under an obligation to deliver mail at the same price in all areas of the UK six days a week. This is vital to many businesses, especially in rural areas, who do not have access to the special deals offered for bulk mail deliveries.
“If, however, competitors are allowed to cherry pick end to end deliveries in urban areas, this will seriously undermine the ability of Royal Mail to continue the service for all areas, and particularly in rural and more remote areas, where the cost of delivery is higher.
“The regulator is already conducting research into the postal services that is looking at changes to the universal service, which could include cutting delivery days from six to five, reducing quality of service and perhaps even getting rid of first class mail.
“I have previously pointed out that the existing legislation could effectively lead to the loss of the first class service since there is no price cap on first class mail.
“These changes would be a disaster for rural areas, and especially rural businesses. A reduction in days could also lead to substantial redundancies within the postal service.
“Scotland needs a first-class mail service for all our communities. The ridiculous scaremongering of the No campaign that we could not afford such a service is shown for what it is – when under the existing UK system we are looking at the possible loss of services through the rush to privatisation – attempted twice by Labour in power and now pursued by the current Coalition.”