What hope for Royal Mail?

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IF THERE is one thing that opponents and supporters of Royal Mail privatisation can agree on, it is surely that the company’s present state is a woeful one.

Yet another strike yesterday over jobs, pay and branch closures, along with the further stoppages threatened in response to the Government’s privatisation drive, are merely the latest evidence of an industrial-relations record which is one of the worst in the country.

Add to this the general deterioration in service, the missed delivery targets, the huge rise in the price of stamps, the steady closure of post offices and it becomes deeply puzzling as to what Royal Mail’s executives have done to merit the huge bonuses they persist in paying themselves.

This litany of failure is why the Government is rushing headlong towards privatisation, determined not to falter in this as so many of its predecessors have done, particularly at a time when the state of the public finances means that Royal Mail’s subsidy is a luxury that can no longer be afforded.

The fear is, however, that privatisation will make many of Royal Mail’s present problems even worse, that stamp prices will soar still further and that uneconomic rural post offices – which, nevertheless, are frequently crucial to community life – will be closed at an even quicker rate. Furthermore, what incentive would there be for the company not to neglect traditional letters in favour of the far more lucrative parcel service?

This is why, in its hurry to rush the privatisation through before Christmas, the Government must ensure that the deal contains sufficient incentives for the new owners to maintain key aspects of Royal Mail’s present level of service.

After all, the power of 
Royal Mail’s unique brand and its unrivalled infrastructure should make the company a guaranteed success for any interested investors who, it might be thought, would be happy to maintain and cherish these key advantages. But, then again, it might be thought that the company should also have been able to flourish under public ownership if only it had had a decent standard of management.