Risk report so thick it could destroy your coffee table


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The Independent Online

You know a flotation is not necessarily the safest investment when the investment prospectus could wedge a door open.

Royal Mail’s, weighing in at 445 pages, is one such.

The well-paid lawyers at Slaughter and May have certainly earned their corn. The  thickness of the document is mainly down to the panoply of risks attached to investing in a complex utility in a rapidly changing market.

Page after page is devoted to the propensity of posties to get bitten by dogs, to outbreaks of disease, worsening traffic congestion, major IT failures, even a nasty-looking dispute over a e10m bill to the Italian taxman.

 But by a long chalk, it is the likelihood, nay inevitability, of industrial unrest that takes up the bulk of the risk report.

Investors must be completely aware that, as well as the strike already being planned by the union next month, industrial action is likely over a whole host of other money-saving and “productivity” initiatives being planned at the post-float Royal Mail.

The company has more than  80 national collective bargaining agreements with unions on a wide range of operational issues, so there is always a  risk of performance- destroying industrial action at a local or countrywide level.

That, the company says, presents a potential threat to many of the measures it is proposing through its Transformation project.

This is one of the most unionised organisations in the country, with around 80 per cent of its operational and administrative staff being members of the Communications Workers Union and 40% of managers in Unite.

The message: investors beware.