Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Royal Mail gets some flak

The Royal Mail is a great British institution that I happen to like. At the moment though in the lead up to Christmas it's under fire from some quarters. The problem is all down to the present pricing policy for letter post that takes into account not only the weight of item but the dimensions of the envelope or package as well. Last Christmas they were quite lenient not worrying if the size of letter was just in the next price bracket but this year they are applying the rules rigidly. It is not only in the matter of length and width that you can fall foul of the pricing regime but thickness is also taken into account. I am making an assumption here but imagine that their automatic sorting equipment tells the operator when there is a mismatch between the price of the stamp and the size of package and its weight as well of course.

From what I hear those Christmas and other celebratory cards with a degree of embossment on them tend to be just over the maximum permissible thickness for the lowest postage rate. Now I don't particularly like that type of card but certainly there are many who do. Should the stamps be of insufficient value then to receive the card the recipient is not only expected to cough up the cost of the additional postage but pay Royal Mail a £1 handling charge as well!

So here is the situation as I perceive it. The clever all singing all dancing sorting equipment used by the Royal Mail could have been designed, graduated or whatever to include the very slightly thicker cards that are embossed in part in the lowest postage rate. Senders of such cards would genuinely have thought that normal stamps would be OK. Even if they had thought about it would they have joined the very long queues so prevalent at post office counters to check? Most likely not. We have typically finished up with the worst of all worlds: Royal Mail under attack from their customers, senders of the cards embarrassed by the fact that the recipient has to find some money to pay the post office to receive the card not to mention that the recipients themselves having to pay up a sizable sum. We seem to be so good at messing things up in this country!

One person who has put his oar in is Anthony Steen, the somewhat eccentric Tory MP for Totnes. This matter of envelope sizes featured on the 'south west' bit of BBC1's Politics Show the other day. Mr Steen, a bit fed up with the way Royal Mail runs its business, was on the programme to say he thought that the Mail needed competition, that we should have a choice in this matter. I have to say that one of the best aspects of Royal Mail is the fact that post is actually delivered to your door not to some anonymous post box in the nearest town and that the cost of postage is universal: the person sending a letter from the Isles of Scilly to the Isle of Lewes is not disadvantaged compared with me writing to someone in the next parish. For competition to be fair any other company would have to replicate what Royal Mail do - they would have their own post boxes, sorting offices and delivery personnel and would have to have the same style of universal delivery. In a small island like ours can this work? Of course not! Royal Mail is far from perfect I know but Mr Steen shouldn't be spouting such nonsense.

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