Is Royal Mail killing off its Internet Delivery Business by mistake?

The campaign against the closure of our local (SE27) Royal Mail sorting office and collection point  appears as muddled as the policy behind the closure. Both fail to separate the need for much better local collection facilities for that “delivered while you were out”, from the need for physically larger sorting offices to handle the massive increase in size and volume of parcels. In this context, Royal Mails legacy of small sorting offices and sub-post offices should be a massive asset, not a millstone.

The campaign led by the CWU and our local MP against the closure has gathered serious support from all parties (I too have signed the petition). But both the campaign and forthcoming feelgood demonstration, fail to distinguish between sorting office facilities and collection facilities. More constructively, one of the recently selected prospective conservative council candidates has written to the Chief Executive of Royal Mail  asking whether the impact on services to the public has been considered. I have asked whether that letter, so far kept private while awaiting a reply, can be made public – because the “solution” – so far as the residents of SE27 are concerned – appears obvious. Use the old Victorian sorting office in Alleyn Park and/or the old  Crown Post Office  in Knights Hill, as collection points while moving the sorting office, with the need for massive articulated trucks carrying what has been ordered over the Internet, to  where-ever makes most sense.

The politics of the Post Office, including the divisions between Royal Mail, Post Office and Sub-Postmasters are, however, byzantine. Back in the days of steam it was an efficient national channel of communications for an increasingly centralised nation state – with processes that we would do well to reinvent today.

Last month I had to organise the funeral of a favourite uncle, who had led the subpostmasters team during their attempts to get Sir Ron Dearing to really modernise the Post Office so that it was fit for the on-line world. While sorting out his effects I came across a letter I had written to him in 1979 shortly after I had appeared on the Jimmy Young Programme after the launch of “Cashing in on the Chips”  explaining why new technology was no threat to jobs – least of all to those of postmen because some-one would have to deliver all those goods that we would be ordering over our televisions. Shortly afterwards, when I was running the NCC Microsystems Centre he was complaining that the Post Office would not allow him to use a micro computer and a dot matrix printer to generate (and complete) all the forms it demanded.

I should perhaps add that as an ex-butler and wartime docker he had gone from running a country post office, with its own sorting office and postman, to turning Walton Post Office into one of the largest (by turnover) in the country handling the banking of the freight-forwarding companies moving into Felixstowe Docks because Girobank opened earlier and closed later than the banks – and was open on Saturday. His turnover would have put him in the top 50 of Crown Post Offices and he looked forward to seeing a revitalised Post Office enabling its network of sub-post offices to put the banks out of business.

After his funeral I was able to have a brief word with some of his former colleagues, albeit they were of a much younger generation, he was over a hundred when he died, and it became clear that, if anything, the post office and its unions have gone backwards, not forwards, in their collective vision since Dearing failed in his attempt to bring them into the 20th Century.