Letter: Keep the Post Office in public hands

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The Independent Online
Sir: It was good to hear that Lord Joseph is opposed to privatising the Post Office ('Deliver us from the Post Office monopoly', 11 May), although the prospect of a free market in mail delivery which he outlined is riddled with false assumptions.

A comparison with the telecommunications industry is a red herring. Letter delivery is labour intensive. There is not a machine yet that can walk up a garden path. Allowing the private sector to take profitable traffic from Royal Mail would undoubtedly force differential tariffs with higher postage costs in rural areas and far fewer services. Rural post offices that rely upon letter and parcels work will be forced out of business.

His definition of competition is selective as well. Only one firm has offered to compete nationally with Royal Mail and only for a guaranteed 50 per cent of the market. All other potential competitors want to cream-skim in city areas. It would be easy for the Post Office to charge 5p for a letter from south London to the City, provided it could charge pounds 2 for a letter from London to Aberdeen.

Lord Joseph also refers in favourable terms to the breaking of the British Gas monopoly. Yet Ofgas has recently paved the way for differential pricing, thus raising fears that rural and poorer customers would pay more. The reference he makes to milk delivery is even more incredible. In any case, competition from supermarkets has wiped out doorstep delivery in many parts of the UK.

As for Lord Joseph's assertion that newspapers 'get to almost every doorstep of the kingdom', I am afraid that they do not. Many rural residents who have newspapers delivered only get them because the postman unofficially brings them from the village.

We are accused of having an 'instinct to do nothing'. Mori asked several pertinent questions related to the options being considered by the DTI. The most interesting was that 81 per cent of respondents wanted the Post Office to remain in public hands but with the commercial freedoms to provide more and better quality services. This is the option that we have supported and promoted for 22 months.

Yours sincerely,

ALAN JOHNSON

General Secretary

Union of Communication Workers

London, SW4

13 May

(Photograph omitted)

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