As many of my constituents appreciate my choice is to correspond by letter. I prefer local residents to write to me with their problems because it allows relevant other documents to be attached and also means that we can keep a proper file for all cases. I am therefore a heavy user of the Royal Mail and its delivery service. Frankly something is very wrong with the whole organisation.
With a constituency here in central London not only are the residents important to me but approximately a million people come to work in central London, in hundreds of thousands of businesses, both large and small. Considering all the other problems that London has, my mailbag is full of the sufferings from the Royal Mail service.
In a debate in the House during May there was an unparalleled display of frustration and dismay from all corners of this nation that our once proud postal service is a modern day disaster. In recent years we have got used to the problems, both operational and financial within the Royal Mail, but my concern is now that it is heading in the same direction as that other great British organisation, British Rail, into total oblivion.
Recent television programmes such as Channel 4’s “Despatches” (never was a programme more inappropriately titled) and the Royal Mail survey on BBC TV were shocking. Whilst recognising that such material is on the whole anecdotal it confirmed many of the complaints I continue to receive. There is a sense that our nation is once again looking at one of its cherished institutions just falling apart.
The recent post office closures, especially in the countryside, continue to cause pain to communities all round the country as many Members of Parliament of all parties will testify. Having a post office so close to hand is very much part of the day-to-day glue of our communities, and huge numbers wrote and continue to write in dismay at the closures.
The problem of fraud with credit cards and various other items of value being sent through the Royal Mail has worsened rather than improved in recent years and the great sadness in that no one within the organisation seems concerned. I know no one who would dream of sending a £10 note for a child’s birthday by letter any more.
Many residents have written to me this year about the problems of the local large delivery office in Howick Place off Victoria Street. It is a large depot, and most residents of south Westminster needing to get hold of parcels or recorded deliveries, when they are not at home, will go to the sorting office. There have been a number of problems there but in early May once again my office was contacted by angry residents and businesses because of the failures of delivery and sorting.
It turned out that some 18 postmen from the depot failed to turn up to deliver one day because of a works do the previous night. We probably all understand that, after Christmas parties in our own offices, attendance is not perhaps what it might be, but apparently this was not a one-off affair. As a result, casuals were called in, many of whom had not delivered in the area before, so they were dismissed immediately; only casuals who had delivered before were used. Many people in the immediate vicinity of Buckingham Gate and Artillery Row did not have post delivered that day. Many residents in the Ashley Gardens area did not have post for several days, and residents are now making special arrangements with the local post office to pick up their mail directly from the sorting office.
Despite many efforts in Parliament and from such organisations as Postwatch to get a response that the Royal Mail knows where it will be in 20 or 30 years’ time the recent increased failures make me feel that it is withering on the vine.
It is a great tragedy that 164 years after the beginning of a universal postal service in this country, many individuals and businesses needing letters and parcels urgently delivered are turning to pre-1840 solutions. They have to organise for delivery privately because they cannot rely on a service of which we should be and have been rightly proud. There is little doubt that our mail service has been a template for those that have developed in other countries, but I fear that many of those nations now have a more reliable service than we currently do.