Royal Mail fail to deliver Universal Service Obligation say MPs

Category: News
Royal Mail threaten declaring business insolvent

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s House of Commons Committee report on Royal Mail and the Post Office makes for sad reading for anyone that uses the postal network for ecommerce.

Covering the use of PDAs, Sick Pay, and the veracity of Oral Evidence given, the part that most concerns ecommerce operators will be Royal Mail’s failure to delivery the Universal Service Obligation, delivering letters and parcels 6 days a week to every address in the UK.

We believe that Royal Mail has systemically failed to deliver against parts of its Universal Service Obligation. We recognise the challenges of both the pandemic and ongoing industrial action, but the evidence we have suggests this systemic failing has been taking place before, between and during these events.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

Indeed, even today Royal Mail have announced over 30 areas of the country where they are failing to deliver the Post six days a week. These areas are ‘the offices most impacted’, suggesting that there are more which aren’t failing quite as badly as to deserve notification to customers.

Deliveries are operating as normal across the UK today. We aim to deliver to all addresses we have mail for, six days a week. In a small number of local offices, this may temporarily not be possible due to local issues such as high levels of sick absence, resourcing, or other local factors. In those cases, we will rotate deliveries to minimise the delay to individual customers. We also provide targeted support to those offices to address their challenges and restore our service to the high standard our customers would normally receive.

– Royal Mail

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee looked deeper into the Quality of Service data sent by by the Royal Mail CEO, which purported to be demonstrating that performance for letters had been marginally better than that for parcels across both 1st and 2nd Class mail. At last however, MPs twigged that this data doesn’t cover Tracked Parcels which were the items being prioritised. Indeed, it’s fair to assume that unless you have been sending items by either Tracked 24 or 48 or Special Delivery, that your parcels were treated pretty much as letters and have been arriving late.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee have called on Ofcom to investigate Royal Mail’s failings and to report back by the end of the year to MPs.

We therefore call on Ofcom to undertake an enforcement investigation into Royal Mail’s delivery of the USO and to report to this Committee by the end of 2023. In doing so, we encourage Ofcom to meet with postal workers from across the country to take evidence on verbal briefings to deprioritise letter deliveries and to do so on a timeframe which spans pre-pandemic to the current day.

– Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

The Committee session came to the pretty serious, but hardly unexpected conclusion, that “whether intentionally or inadvertently, Mr Thompson misled the Committee when he first gave evidence“. MPs also said that “We conclude that, despite Mr Thompson’s statements to us on 17 January, which he qualified on 22 February, Royal Mail has deprioritised delivery of letters as a matter of company policy“.

Failure to deliver the Universal Service Obligation has led the Committee to “call on the Government to formally engage with Royal Mail, following the outcome of Ofcom’s enforcement investigation, to secure the future of the Universal Service Obligation and Royal Mail“. They requested the Government provide an initial report by the end of 2024, although of course it may well be a different Government by then as a General Election is due to be held that year.

In conclusion, the Committee said: “Finally, we put on record that the issues at Royal Mail covered by this Report have caused the Committee great concern. Regarding the current industrial dispute, we call on the board of Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union to seek to resolve the outstanding issues as quickly as possible.

The one unanswered question is what happens if Royal Mail simply tell the Government and Ofcom that the Universal Service Obligation simply isn’t affordable to deliver in it’s current format, or even worse decide that they no longer want to be a parcel company that also deliver letter, hand back the Universal Service Obligation and become a parcel company that doesn’t delivery letters. That would be the nuclear option and it’s unclear who would then deliver letters.

2 Responses

  1. The Act that privatised Royal Mail makes clear that the profitable parts of the business are to subsidise the universal service.

    This wasn’t hidden from Royal Mail’s investors, but was abundantly clear. At the time, this obligation was deemed a deterent to many investors in Royal Mail.

    But this was the necessary balance between maintaining an essential letter service for the UK and assuaging the Tory desire to sell off anything in this country that isn’t screwed to the floor.

    All privatisations have been failures for customers and the UK as a whole, whilst hugely benefitting investors and big business.

    Royal Mail was never right for privatisation. It needed investment and modernisation, but the government does not believe in investing in this country. Which is why we are falling behind most other countries, who want to improve the lives of all their people and leave things in a better state than when they came in.

    1. Well said Andy.
      All this government wants to do is sell off everything to line their own pockets.
      They really don’t care about services for the common person or a living wage.
      As long as their mates and themselves are making plenty out of anything they can squeeze a penny out of then it’s all good as far as they are concerned.

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