Jim Armitage: Privatised Royal Mail must not fall under a train

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The Independent Online

Outlook So, the privatisation of Royal Mail is to go ahead: the biggest sale of a state asset since Railtrack. And with precedents like that, what could possibly go wrong?

At least it's unlikely that this ideologically driven plan will result in death and injury to the public – although the Mail's red van drivers have caused a few scrapes over the years. But there are serious parallels to be made. The tragedies in our rail industry that peppered Railtrack's existence were the result of inadequate investment in the infrastructure. That was partly because the rules on refurbishment and maintenance expenditure were either not adequately enshrined in legislation or enforced.

In the case of the Mail, it's uniquely critical function – the universal service obligation – must not fall under the same train.

For all the Government's promises that universal service is enshrined in legislation, who can trust that, in future financial crises for the Mail, it won't successfully lobby for an end to that costly rule?

While many of us members of the public (particularly urbanites) may view it as an optional part of our lives, for rural communities and businesses, the Mail's final-mile delivery represents a key communication channel.

If this sounds like the same old lefty scaremongering, take note: the organisation expressing most concern about universal service last night was not the unions or the Labour party, but the British Chambers of Commerce.