There has been a lot of publicity surrounding the intention to sell off Royal Mail, which will eventually lead to it being replaced by private delivery companies, and individual couriers on franchises. Of course, I do not support this sell-off, in any way, but sense it is somehow inevitable, given current political apathy in the mainstream.
Since the days of penny stamps, and deliveries three times a day, society has changed greatly. Long ago, even before the advent of the Internet, e mail, and text messaging, communication by post was already in decline. People used the telephone more, and lost the desire, and in many cases the talent, to write letters as a form of contact with friends, family, companies, or suppliers. The rise of the prepared CV reduced the need to elaborate in job applications, and with the eventual dominance of the computerised recruitment process, written testimonials, and detailed job histories, virtually ceased to exist. As for the concept of writing to maiden aunts, or second cousins twice removed; it just faded away.
In modern Britain, if you are not on Facebook, do not have a Twitter ‘handle’, or you are unable to receive text messages or e mails, you might as well just curl up and die. Most youngsters would not have a clue how to even start a letter, and have probably not even owned a stamp. The only paper in most houses is in a computer printer, and the only pen is probably an old biro, bookmarking a favourite page in the Argos catalogue, or next to the takeaway menu from Domino’s Pizza. Stamps now cost 60p for first class delivery; that is twelve whole shillings in the currency that I still work by. Take a parcel to the Post Office, and you will be staggered by the cost of postage. Of course, when people write less letters, then it is simple economics that the price of stamps will increase. This might also apply to parcels, were it not for ebay. Never have so many parcels been sent, yet the price has continued to rise steadily.
There has been a lot said about how uneconomical the Post Office is, and how it loses money, and has no future. Ask yourself, if this is true, then why do so many companies want to jump on the bandwagon to be part of this economic disaster? If all these ‘facts’ were really accurate, then we would all be seeing the end of an archaic system, that could not survive in the 21st century. The real truth, is that it is very profitable indeed, especially in the big cities. Delivery of the forests of junk mail and flyers, as well as the aforementioned tidal wave of parcels, makes good money, and that is why the privateers want to get their hands on it. But only on some of it.
Outside of the large urban conurbations, it is expensive to run the Post Office as we know it, providing the mail, and all the affiliated services we have become used to. Attempts to compete with the mainstream banks, and to sell everything from Domestic Gas, to Pet Insurance, have been misguided, and driven by desperation; or by managers who fail to understand what they are supposed to be providing. The whole point of the Postal Service has been lost, in the scrabble for profit, and the statistics of viability. It is a social service, a provider of more than mass communication, especially, though not exclusively, in the rural areas of this country, and for the isolated and elderly. It must be funded with this as the primary purpose, and the accompanying losses must be accepted, as the cost of providing a lifeline to many.
Even when I lived in Central London, I had the same postman for years. He was nothing like the puppet figure of children’s television, Postman Pat. He did his rounds on large estates, having to wheel around a large trolley, which he had to return and refill at least once each shift. He had to contend with a clientele that spoke many languages, entryphone buzzers, and a transient population, constantly moving around. He did this well, and was usually cheerful in his work. If he had a parcel, or something to be signed for, and I was out, he knew what could be trusted with neighbours, or secreted under a doormat, and he had an eye for something better collected in person, from the office. He remembered who had moved away, and he was careful with fragile items, or things in envelopes marked ‘do not bend’. He was a professional, good at his job, which he took seriously, and regarded as a career, and something he would do for life.
In rural Norfolk, we see the reality of the puppet show. A regular postman, travelling in a small van, who knows his customers personally, and arranges where to leave bulky items, or not to open a gate that lets the dog out to wander. He keeps an eye out for the elderly, and is the first to realise if they are not around, or things just don’t seem right. You see him in the village post office, or driving around the local market town, and you feel that he is part of the community, not just someone pushing letters through your door. It is these people who make the price of a stamp seem reasonable, at least to me. I can sit and write a letter to a friend in Somerset, at midday. Post it in the nearby box, where it will be collected at teatime. The next day, she will be able to read my news over her lunch. Even in 2013, I think that is still worth a great deal. Civilised communication, carefully handled by professionals, delivered secure, and unmolested, hundreds of miles away, the following day. Not bad, even for 60p. I would miss it, if it went. (Or I should say, I will miss it, when it goes) But then, I am still a writer of letters, and that, according to ‘reliable’ surveys, puts me firmly in a minority in this country. Actually, I do accept this to be true.
Of course, there are other stories. Lost letters, stolen postal orders, birthday cards torn open, in case they contain cash; parcels smashed in transit, or casually thrown over gates and fences. They are probably true too, but in the grand scheme of things, given the huge volume of daily post, they are very much the exception. Companies, Utility providers, Banks, and other agencies, are already preparing us for the demise of the post. We have to ‘apply online’, ‘manage accounts online’ and even go online to make a complaint, or to contact customer services. ‘Paperless billing’ is no longer dressed up as saving the environment. They are more honest about it now. It saves money, so we get a small discount to use the Internet. Once this is the only way, those discounts will undoubtedly disappear. Almost five and a half million households in the UK do not have access to the Internet, whether by choice, or from lack of funds, or because of poor signals. That is approximately seven million people who are not able to ‘take advantage’ of doing all these things online. ( Figures correct in 2012) What is the future for them, without a postal service, and companies refusing to use one anyway? Nobody knows, because nobody cares.
Do you think that courier firms, like TNT and DHL will provide a daily postal service to rural communities? I don’t. Do you believe that their postal operatives will be the same ones every day, and have a good knowledge of their customer base, and area? I don’t. Do you also believe that prices for posting single items will be controlled, and that there will not be a raft of increases? I don’t. The Royal Mail is as good as dead. We just have to arrange the funeral. ‘Bye Pat.