The Privatisation of Royal Mail: Are you ready to deliver your own letters?

Vince Cable has assured us a privatised Royal Mail would maintain all its services. Of course it will, because making a profit will hardly figure in their plans at all.

Share

They really would sell their granny, this Government. Even Margaret Thatcher wouldn’t sell the Royal Mail, but this lot’s doing it, so you can only conclude they would genuinely sell their granny. They’d float her on the stock exchange, and when she said, “I’m worried about who might buy me, dear. I’ve been with Grandpa Albert 54 years and at my age I don’t like change”, they’d say, “You have to be modernised, Granny. You’re shedding money at the moment, what with mobility scooters and lifts to your friends’ funerals, but that will all change with private investment. You can be used for testing whether new brands of shampoo are toxic, or beaten for re-enactments of muggings in Crimewatch. Once you’re free from outdated regulations you’ll be profitable in no time.”

Vince Cable has assured us a privatised Royal Mail would maintain all its services, including those that don’t make a profit. Of course it will, because making a profit will hardly figure in their plans at all. The report at the annual general meeting will begin: “Shareholders will be delighted to learn that although there’s no dividend this year, we had a huge success in the third financial quarter, when we delivered a small teddy to the Scilly Islands. It cost a fortune but you should have seen that little girl’s face.” Even the Daily Mail warned that a privatised service mustn’t end up like the “tax-dodging overcharging water and energy companies”.

But who could ever have guessed that the businesses that bought the utilities would invest in them only because they planned to take more back out? There’s no accounting for that sort of unpredictable bad luck, and it surely can’t happen again.

The sell-off is a necessity, apparently, because the service needs an “injection of capital”. This makes sense, as long as you accept that for the past 357 years, the Royal Mail has existed without being privatised. It has never needed any capital before. Luckily, everything it’s needed has been free. In the 18th century, it won some ships in a bet in a pub. Then in the 20th century, the chairman won a fleet of red vans on an episode of Bullseye.

But now, for the first time, there’s no choice, as the Royal Mail is currently owned by the British Government, which can’t inject any capital itself because presumably it has no access to money. Maybe it put it all in a teapot as it doesn’t trust the banks, and it can’t remember where it is, and when the Royal Mail said it needed an injection of capital the Treasury got in a panic so it had no choice but to sell off the whole service.

The argument for privatisations in the past has been that the industry being sold off, such as railways or steel, was losing public money, but the Royal Mail is profitable already. Even so, to encourage investors, they’re only selling off the profitable bits, and we’re keeping responsibility for pensions, and the stuff that costs money. But Vince Cable could go much further. For example, if we recognised we can’t carry on being spoilt by having the post delivered, and agreed to collect it ourselves from whoever was sending it, the new business could sack the postmen and begin to create a truly modern service.

The Daily Telegraph suggests the sell-off will create a “bonanza for the banks”, so at least they’re going to benefit from it. And it’s about time they had a bit of luck, as they’ve put in so much effort in recent years for very little reward.

As with the privatisations of the 1980s, it’s proclaimed as a measure that will spread shares to all ranks of society. For example, it’s encouraging that one finance company charitable enough to take part in the bonanza is Goldman Sachs, which has been appointed as one of the co-ordinators of the sell-off. So at last, humble types, such as the board of Goldman Sachs, will feel they have a stake in society.

And at last, the service will be opened up to business opportunities denied it as a state‑run bureaucracy. The postman will hand over your letters and ask: “Would you like a pastry with that?” They can learn from the rail companies and introduce peak times, so if you want a letter to be delivered before 11.30am, the stamp costs £450. We should also expect some inevitable cuts in staff and safety, and possibly the world’s first envelope disaster resulting in more than 300 casualties.

Luckily we don’t have to guess what will happen, as we have the precedent of previous industries getting sold off. In the 1980s, the selling of gas, water and BT would create a new share-owning democracy. By the end of it all, the percentage of people owning shares was less than it had been before.

But the energy companies went on to become Britain’s best-loved institutions, cheap and efficient and so easy to deal with. And now the Royal Mail can go the same way, putting prices up only two or three times a week, and creating a system so simple to use that instead of buying stamps from outdated Post Offices, we have to ring a call centre that takes so long to answer that it’s quicker to cycle to Devon and deliver it yourself.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: International Trade Advisors - Hertfordshire or Essex

£30000 - £35379 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is based in Welwyn ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Voices in Danger: With the drug cartels in control, a Mexican editor has been forced to flee for his life

Anne Mortensen
 

Here’s why I’m so full of (coffee) beans

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn