Postman Phil falls foul of takeover: A Royal Mail agreement that allows senior postmen to 'pick and choose' rounds has upset villagers. Richard North reports

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The Independent Online
PHIL MARKHAM, the postman, is much liked around Wellington (pop. circa 700), a thriving commuter and farming village between Leominster and Hereford. He returns the compliment. But the mutual admiration has not proved strong enough to keep the postman in his post.

Next week, almost certainly, Mr Markham will give up his red van and start a walk in Hereford city. A 200-signature petition begged for his retention, but Mr Markham, 33, and the village have fallen victim to a practice, of at least 30 years' standing and negotiated between union and management, under which any postman senior to the incumbent has a right to his round.

His move flies in face of the Royal Mail's declared policy of encouraging 'the customer and the postmen to build up the kind of relationship that they obviously have in Wellington', as a spokesman put it yesterday.

Often the right to take another's round has little effect on customers because a rotation system means that villages have several postmen. However, last year, to help the customer identify with one postman, a new 'fixed duty' system was introduced. To overcome the difficulty that some postmen might be stuck with a round or other duty they disliked, the Union of Communication Workers agreed with the management in some districts, including Hereford, to hang on to the 'repick' system.

Bob Taylor, the Royal Mail's delivery area manager for Hereford and Worcester, said: 'We are in a bit of a dilemma, but we think the repick system is probably a fair solution.' He believes that in a few months the village will have adjusted to their new postman.

But Thelma and Vic Watts, who run Wellington Stores and the local sub-post office, are disappointed. 'These things are important to village life,' Mrs Watts said. 'Phil's very unassuming. He's not out to make an impression - he just does.'

Among the villagers who grew fond of Mr Markham during his year of delivering their mail are Helen Green, a pensioner, and her invalid sister Betty, whom Helen nurses during the day. 'The other week, I was walking to Betty's and was worried I'd left the fire on at home. I asked Phil to let himself in and check. You shouldn't write this down, but he often sticks his head through the door and we have quite a long chat - when he's got time. A proper chat, mind, not gossip . . . Phil wouldn't gossip.'