Dear Granny Smith: free audiobook read by Philip Jackson

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Philip Jackson, the voice of Roy Mayall

 

A letter from your postman written by Roy Mayall and delivered by Philip Jackson; a heartfelt musing on the past, present and future role of one of the oldest British institutions, the Postie.

First broadcast on Book of the Week Monday 14th December 2009. A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.

Episode 1

Why postmen used to have the best job in the world, and why it’s heading towards becoming the worst.

Episode 2

The special relationship between the postman and his clients, and what it’s like to be up at the crack of dawn.

Episode 3

Delivering letters is just the tip of the iceberg – how does the right letter end up in the right letterbox?

Episode 4

The end of the team talk and the beginning of new-fangled machinery.

Episode 5

The tale of Tom and Jerry and the big grey boxes.

My thanks to Clive Brill of Pacificus Productions for permission to use this material.

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A Royal Mail worker speaks out about privatisation

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I started working for the Royal Mail sometime after the turn of the Millennium. It was a job I had always wanted. Healthy, out in the fresh air, involving at least four hours a day of intense exercise, and a degree of autonomy, with no managers looking over my shoulder – at least while I was out on my round – it was the perfect job. Still is in many ways.

The basics of the job haven’t changed. I still walk from one address to the next sticking letters through letter boxes. What can possibly go wrong? Well a lot actually. They can destroy the industry by undermining the pension, introducing a form of fake competition, and then privatising it. Competition was introduced in the wake of the third EU Postal Services Directive of 2008, which required all postal markets to be opened up to other companies.

I say ‘fake competition’ because how can you introduce real competition into what is, in its essence, a natural monopoly?

From the We Own It website. You can read more here: https://weownit.org.uk/blog/royal-mail-worker-speaks-out-about-privatisation

The Year They Privatised Christmas

RMXmas
Like modern day Father Christmases delivering presents to your door

I started working for the Royal Mail sometime after the turn of the Millennium.

It was a job I had always wanted. Healthy, out in the fresh air, involving at least four hours a day of intense exercise, and a degree of autonomy, with no managers looking over my shoulder – at least while I was out on my round – it was the perfect job. Still is in many ways.

The basics of the job haven’t changed. I still walk from one address to the next sticking letters through letter boxes. What can possibly go wrong?

Well a lot actually. They can destroy the industry by undermining the pension, introducing a form of fake competition, and then privatising it.

The pension was undermined between 1990 and 2003 when the company took a pensions holiday, failing to pay its share into the pension pot. They could not possibly have done this without the agreement of the government. This left an £8bn pension deficit, later rising to £10bn, which the government used as a way to begin the privatisation narrative. Look, the Royal Mail is failing, they said: we need to privatise it. It nationalised the liability – taking the pension deficit in-house – while beginning the process of selling off the assets on the cheap to its mates in the private sector.

Competition was introduced in the wake of the third EU Postal Services Directive of 2008, which required all postal markets to be opened up to other companies.

I say ‘fake competition’ because how can you introduce real competition into what is, in its essence, a natural monopoly?

The Royal Mail – or Post Office as it was more commonly known – had only ever been in the public sector during its entire 500 year history. It had created the whole distribution network – the systems, the methods, the procedures – as a seamless unity. Indeed, there’s a good argument to say that the Royal Mail is responsible for the creation of our modern-day nation. It brought together the different parts of the country by giving everyone an address and a post code, accessible to all for the price of a single stamp.

How can there be real competition when one company, and one company alone, is required, under the Universal Service Obligation (USO) to deliver to every address, no matter how remote, in the whole of the United Kingdom: not only from Land’s End to John o’Groats, but from the Scilly Isles to the Outer Hebrides, from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Man?

It’s easy to make a profit delivering from city to city, from London to Manchester to Glasgow, or from district to district inside the same city: much harder if you take in all the towns and villages as well; almost impossible if you include every isolated cottage, croft or farmstead in between. Only the Royal Mail is obliged to deliver to all of these.

The way they engineered the competition was through a process called ‘downstream access’. Previous privatisations gave access to the industry network – the electricity grid, the water pipes or the gas pipes – to all the rival companies on an equal basis.

In the case of the postal industry the equivalent of this was us: the postal workers on our rounds.

So the Royal Mail’s rivals were allowed to bid for the bulk mail and city-to-city contracts of all the main services – the banks, the utilities, the NHS, Amazon, eBay and all the rest – and then expect us to deliver it for them.

In other words, in this industry, me and my labour – my living, breathing, heart-pumping, energetic body – is viewed as the equivalent of the tangles of copper wires or the networks of underground pipes that serve as the infrastructure in other parts of the economy.

Even then the other companies would have been unable to make a mark. The Royal Mail was too big and too well-established. It could have crushed the other companies underfoot. So the government introduced a principle called ‘headroom’. When the Royal Mail charged the other companies for its downstream access services, it was obliged to leave financial space for them to make a profit.

So there was never a ‘free market’. It was a highly regulated market from the outset: that is, the Royal Mail was regulated in order to allow the other companies the freedom to compete with each other.

And then there was privatisation, which took place in October 2013, as I’m sure you all remember.

Part of the justification for this was that people’s habits were changing. People didn’t send letters any more: they sent emails and texts instead.

If you listen to the Royal Mail, they will tell you that there has been a 40% drop in mail volumes in the last ten years. This might be true, although there does seem to be a marked increase in advertising mail at the same time. But the one thing they failed to mention was the increase in packets. The same technology that has effaced the ancient and noble art of letter-writing – never something the majority of the population engaged in anyway – has also, at the same time, allowed us to buy our goods online.

This has been by far the greatest shift in the industry since the onset of the digital revolution: the sheer number of packets we carry, a much more profitable enterprise.

I can’t believe the government hadn’t predicted this when they decided to sell off the Royal Mail, or that experts in the industry weren’t already aware of it.

In other words, it’s been one giant-sized con from beginning to end.

The other element that comes into this has been the separation of the Post Office from the Royal Mail.

The Post Office has always made a loss. The Royal Mail has always made a profit. By retaining the Post Office in public hands, while selling off the Royal Mail, they’ve ensured ever increasing profits for the private sector, and ever increasing burdens for the public.

There’s been extraordinary pressure on Post Office Ltd, the government owned company that runs the counters that sell you your stamps, to cut costs and make efficiency savings. What this has meant is that post offices are being franchised out into supermarkets, where the staff are paid at retail trade rates under minimum hours contracts, rather than the well-paid and secure jobs that skilled post office workers used to command. The Post Office is no more than a minor adjunct of the retail industry these days.

Most post offices are also grossly understaffed, which has meant massive queues this Christmas… and for all Christmases to come, unless the industry is brought back together again.

I’ve called this piece ‘The Year They Privatised Christmas’. That’s because the Royal Mail was always an integral part of the Christmas story.

Still is. We deliver all your Christmas cards and most of your parcels. All holiday rights are cancelled for the season, and most postal workers – at least in the past – were willing to go into serious levels of overtime to get the job done. Our MP always comes down to the office to congratulate us on our work. We are like modern day Father Christmases in our red vans, wrapped up against the cold in our red fleeces, delivering presents to your door.

By privatising the Royal Mail the government has effectively privatised Christmas.

It has turned me into a mere utility: an overground delivery system without a will of my own.

The management may not be looking directly over my shoulder, but they make me carry a PDA – a ‘postal delivery assistant’: effectively a tracking device – which tells them where I am and where and am heading every minute of the day.

They make me work harder and faster for the same basic wage. They are constantly ratcheting up the pace and the work load, to make sure I do more work in the same number of hours. They have degraded me and degraded my job in order to squeeze out more profits for their shareholders.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that most of the good will is gone. Postal workers are less and less likely to go into overtime. We are less and less likely to want to do management any favours.

That’s why we voted so overwhelmingly to strike in October – 89.1 per cent in favour on a turnout of 73.7 per cent – not only to secure our pensions and our jobs, but also to secure the future of the Royal Mail – and Christmas! – for all.

http://www.intimeforxmas.com/

http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/article/year-they-privatised-christmas

Third-Class Post

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‘The Royal Mail delivers its rivals’ mail’ Photograph: Getty Images

Today is the last day for sending first-class post if you want it to arrive before Christmas. You’re lucky there’s anyone to deliver it. In October, the Communication Workers Union held a ballot which came out overwhelmingly in support of strike action – 89.1 per cent in favour on a turnout of 73.7 per cent – but the Royal Mail got a High Court injunction to stop the strike.

If you believe Royal Mail, letter volumes have declined by 40 per cent in the last ten years as people have increasingly taken to email. But there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable loss from where postal workers are standing. In fact, volumes are as high as they’ve ever been. It’s true that people don’t write so many personal letters any more – that was always a minority interest anyway – but the loss of personal mail has been more than compensated for by a marked increase in advertising mail. I’m sure you’ve noticed it too.

It’s a joke in the office. ‘Figures are down,’ we say, while loading all those extra bags into the back of the van. And it’s here we see a really strange thing in the conduct of the postal industry in the UK. There are just as many letters as there were before privatisation, but many of them are now ‘handled’ by rival mail companies like UK Mail and TNT, who, while they take the profit for handling it, don’t actually deliver it. We deliver it. Yes, that’s right: the Royal Mail delivers its rivals’ mail. Management tells us that if we go on strike it will strengthen our rivals, but without us, our rivals can’t exist.

The rival mail companies are allowed to use Royal Mail staff and equipment to deliver their post, through a process called ‘downstream access’; at the same time, none of them is hampered by the Universal Service Obligation, which requires the Royal Mail to deliver to every household in the country, no matter how remote.

Meanwhile, the privatised Royal Mail is now under an obligation to increase profits to pass on to shareholders. What this means is that there is growing pressure to cut costs, to deliver the same amount of mail using fewer staff.

The way they achieve this is through a process called ‘lapsing’. What they do is to break down two or three rounds in the office into their constituent parts – they ‘collapse’ the frames – thus saving on the wages of the workers who would otherwise have delivered those rounds. They then hand the extra bundles on to the rest of us to deliver.

Which is fine on a light day, but these days we lapse almost every day; and because of the pressure to cut costs there is no longer any spare capacity in the office. There aren’t enough staff, and if something unexpected happens, like one or two people going off sick, or a surge of mail, there isn’t the man-power to cope. This is when mail gets left behind. This is when third-class mail is given priority over first-class.

Which is what happened recently. There was a last-minute surge of mail, including a significant quantity of first class letters. Well, I say ‘last-minute’. It was last-minute as far as delivery staff were concerned, but the management, who brought it in from the lorries, and the people who run the sorting machines, must have known it was there all along.

There were howls of protest from the staff. How are we going to sort and deliver this, and take out the lapsed mail?

That’s when I heard something I’d never heard before in all my years as a postman: instead of dropping the lapsed mail, some of which was just the third-class advertising junk known as Mailsort, we were told to leave the first-class mail under our desks.

You may ask why they did this. And the answer is: I have no idea. But I can take an educated guess. It was about saving money. They didn’t have anyone to take out the lapsed mail, so, rather than bring in casual workers, which would have cost them, they decided to delay the first-class mail instead.

None of this happened when we were publicly owned. First-class mail was always given priority, and most postal workers were willing to go into overtime to get it delivered. Not any more.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2017/12/21/roy-mayall/third-class-post/

The privatised Royal Mail will get a Christmas bonanza – but not us posties

Goodwill among delivery workers is in short supply. After years of being sidelined and ignored, I’m refusing to put in overtime

From the Guardian, Comment is free: Wednesday 18 December 2013 11.10 GMT

A postal worker sorts parcels: ‘no matter how good technology gets, it will never be possible to send a parcel by email’. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Christmas arrived for us posties on Wednesday the 4th of December this year. The start of the week had been quiet, with just a trickle of festive mail, but on the Wednesday there was suddenly an avalanche of post falling on top of us: thousands of cards and hundreds of parcels, as well as all the usual advertising, Christmas catalogues and charity begging letters. It’s been like that ever since.

I must admit I don’t deliver all of it. I sort it, bag it up, and deliver some of it. The rest I pass on to one of my colleagues to deal with. For the first time since I started working for the Royal Mail over 10 years ago, I “cut off” on my round: that is I work my hours and refuse to go into overtime.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the influx of temporary staff, or the army of casual workers on rolling contracts, the Christmas mail would never get delivered. It always used to be a matter of pride to me that I would finish the job, no matter how hard it got. Not any more. There are a number of reasons for this. First, they got rid of our bikes and replaced them with trolleys, meaning that mail delivery now involves four hours or more of relentless walking, a much more tiring activity than cycling.

Second, they moved our delivery office to the nearest city, several miles away. I now have a half-hour commute to get to work in the mornings, a half-hour drive to get to my round, another half-hour to get back to the office and yet another half-hour drive home again. I used to cycle into work and then cycle to my round. I was far more inclined to do overtime when it took place 10 minutes from home. It is much less appealing when it means driving home late, tired and in the dark.

Third, all the goodwill I used to have has gone. I no longer feel any loyalty towards the company I work for. Years of being sidelined and ignored, of a failure to consult over the most fundamental aspects of my working life, has left me feeling estranged. I used to love my work. These days it’s “just a job”: something I do because I have to, not because it gives my life any meaning any more.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Privatisation has merely intensified the mood. Of course, if you were to believe Vince Cable or his advisers, you’d think that without privatisation the Royal Mail would be finished by now. Figures are down, they used to tell us. People are using email and text these days, they don’t need a postal service any more.

Christmas is a reminder that this was always nonsense. People don’t send Christmas texts instead of cards, and no matter how good the technology gets, it will never be possible to send a parcel by email.

Indeed, this is the distinguishing characteristic of this year’s Christmas mail: the sheer number of parcels we have to deliver. I’ve never seen so many. The great skill of our job these days is in keeping a track of them, in knowing how to incorporate them into the rest of the mail.

The very technology they claimed spelled doom for the postal service allows people to go online at any time of the day or night, buying stuff on eBay and Amazon, most of which gets sent through the post. These could be the boom years for the Royal Mail as the margin of profit on parcels is much greater than it is on letters.

Even before privatisation profits were increasing. Pre-tax profits were £233m for the six months to 29 September, up from £94m a year earlier. This was all within the public sphere, so no one can pretend that privatisation had anything to do with it. In other words, everyone knew that there was a bonanza on its way. The real point of privatisation, it seems, has been to allow the private sector to cash in on it.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/18/privatised-royal-mail-christmas-posties-delivery-overtime

For Sale: from the LRB blog

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Something that hasn’t been mentioned much in the post-privatisation analysis is the amount of money the Royal Mail stands to make out of its immense property holdings. One building alone in the company’s portfolio of disused offices in London – the mail centre in Nine Elms Lane – has been valued at half a billion pounds. That’s one-sixth of what the government sold the whole company for.

The office was closed in 2012, more than a year before the sell-off. And it’s not the only one. Dozens of delivery offices up and down the country, including mine, were closed in the run up to privatisation. Several of them remain unsold.

Could the offices have been kept empty on purpose? Royal Mail bosses now stand to make a lot of money out of the company they once used merely to manage.

– See more at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/12/17/roy-mayall/for-sale/#sthash.wrtLm9Fi.dpuf

There’s Madness in the Methods

“A postal duty is, in effect, a four hour intensive workout, and it gets increasingly difficult the older you get. Any further pressure on delivery staff is likely to leave us suicidal.”

Deliveries are now made with trolleys Credit: ITV

According to the Daily Telegraph, “American activist investors” – who are becoming the main buyers into Royal Mail – believe that the company “could execute deeper cost cuts and yield far bigger profits”.

Staff costs are one of the areas being looked at.

“The productivity improvement rate is really pretty low, given the amount of new technology at the company,” said a source. “Now 80% of mail is sorted by technology, yet the productivity costs have only come down marginally in comparison. The company could be far more aggressive on driving the costs savings through.”

We all knew this would happen. The pressure will soon be on to cut staff numbers and to increase workloads in order to improve productivity.

But I can tell you now that this is just not possible, at least where delivery duties are concerned. When Panorama did a programme about the Royal Mail in 2009, it arranged for former Royal Marine and military fitness expert Tony Goddard to test a duty. He was unable to finish it in the allotted time, saying that it was “unreasonable” to expect postal workers to do it five days a week.

A postal duty is, in effect, a four hour intensive workout, and it gets increasingly difficult the older you get. Any further pressure on delivery staff is likely to leave us suicidal.

However, there is some truth in the assessment. The productivity improvement rate is, indeed, pretty low given the amount of technology that has been introduced. There’s a reason for this. It’s called “Methods”.

This is the internal name for the modernisation programme which the company has been undertaking since 2009. It involves the scrapping of bikes and their replacement by trolleys: two postal workers working out of the back of a van using customised golf trolleys, carrying two bags apiece.

The ostensible reason for the new method is so that we can carry more packets: packets being the new growth area within the postal business. However, it is also considerably slower than using a bike. Just to give you a measure of this: my round used to take around three hours and fifteen minutes. Under Methods we are supposed to manage our rounds in four hours. That’s already forty five minutes longer than before. However, there is never a day when we can complete the round even in this time, often going as much as an hour over. In other words, the new method is at least a third slower than the old method.

It is also much more tiring. Using a bike we were constantly changing position: sometimes walking, sometimes scooting, sometimes cycling, sometimes freewheeling down a slope. All we do now is four hours or more of relentless walking, mile after mile: around twelve to fifteen miles a day. My hips and my back ache from the strain and all I can do when I get home these days is to eat my dinner and fall asleep in front of the telly.

Slowing down the work while making it harder: I wonder whose bright idea that was? The reason it’s called “modernisation” and not “a big pile of shit” is that it is being modelled through a computer. We’ve replaced an old technology – bikes – which were very efficient at delivering the mail, with a new technology – computers – which are very efficient at measuring the process. We’ve privileged the needs of the office over the needs of the job. Now you tell me which is more useful in an industry whose sole purpose is the delivery of mail?

It’s a pity they never thought to ask us posties. We would have told them that it wasn’t going to work. TNT – one of the rival mail companies currently experimenting with end-to-end delivery in some parts of London – do so using bikes, while Deutsche Post has recently been testing electric bikes on the streets of Berlin.

The reason the CWU went along with the new method is that it was supposed to take the weight off our shoulders. In fact it has done the opposite: it has put weight onto our shoulders, as in an effort to get the work done on time, many posties are now dispensing with the trolleys.

But the real measure of the insanity of this is that despite the fact that it was extensively trialled, and that it has consistently shown itself to be slower and more costly than the old method, it has nevertheless been rolled out throughout the country.

This is the reason why the productivity improvement rate is so low, despite the amount of new technology being deployed. If “activist investors” really wanted to improve productivity, then they could start by bringing back the bikes. After that, they might consider reducing staff numbers by getting rid of everyone who thought that “Methods” was a good idea in the first place. That includes Moya Greene.

Royal Mail’s latest ad: the hypocrisy of capitalism in one minute

“We love parcels…”

Royal Mail’s management don’t regard you as customers but recipients, simply a way to deliver returns to their investors.

From the Guardian, Comment is free.

The first TV advert from the Royal Mail since privatisation was shown over the weekend, during the X Factor, and Downton Abbey.

The advert features the Royal Mail Choir, singing their version of the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, while postmen and women deliver parcels to their appreciative customers.

Here’s a summary of the whole advert, in one paragraph:

There’s a Sikh postie walking along a corridor; a little girl placing stamps upon a parcel; a pen drawing hearts in red ink upon a sheet of paper; a man paying for his parcel delivery on-line using a tablet computer; a shot within a parcel depot featuring parcels running on a conveyor belt with lasers reading the addresses; delivery to a café (the café owner opens his arms as if he’s about to embrace the postie) followed by a series of other deliveries in quick succession: to a stately home, to a garage complete with garage-band, to a little girl’s birthday party; a Muslim postie walking passed a training centre with the words “For Hire” painted on the wall; delivery to a factory; a black female postie smiling (the only woman postal worker in the advert); delivery to an upmarket London townhouse; two rain soaked posties; another Royal Mail parcel depot featuring brand new, sparkling-clean Royal Mail lorries; a Royal Mail lorry driving passed a remote rural village; a little girl opening up a letter box in anticipation of a delivery (an intense light bursts from the letter box like a mystical sign); that Sikh postie again, in a massive block of flats (an Indian woman answers the door wearing rubber gloves); another postie dwarfed by another huge, semi-circular block of flats, followed by the slogan, “We deliver one billion parcels a year”; a shot of a postal worker raising his arms in apparent blessing of the contents of a Royal Mail van (he’s like Jesus blessing the loaves and the fishes) ending with the words, “We love parcels.”

Everyone is smiling.

All of that to the words of All You Need Is Love:

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need.

And there you have it: the hypocrisy of advanced capitalism in precisely one minute.

The Royal Mail delivers none of that. It doesn’t deliver love. It doesn’t deliver diversity. It doesn’t deliver a welcoming smile. It doesn’t deliver to stately homes, to garages or to birthday parties. It doesn’t deliver hope and anticipation. It doesn’t deliver mail to remote communities. It doesn’t deliver friendliness in the rain. It doesn’t even deliver parcels. We do all of that: the men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who work for the Royal Mail. That’s our job.

Now that it is privatised, the Royal Mail’s job is simply to deliver returns to its investors.

For a long time now the Royal Mail has been divided, between management and postal workers, between those who see it as a business, and those who see it as a service. The people who commissioned that advert are the former rather than the latter. It’s not a service to them, it’s a way of making money.

We were told this many years ago: “Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.”

Granny Smith” is the postal worker’s affectionate nickname for you, the customer. Or rather, for the people that we regard as our customers, the people we meet on the doorstep everyday. But the Royal Mail management doesn’t regard you as their customers. They don’t meet you but once in a lifetime. You are merely the recipients of the mail. Their customers are the people who send the mail in large quantities: the utility companies, the banks, the advertisers, the bulk deliverers, the people who churn letters out by the tonne using advanced computer systems, the mail-shot companies using lists they’ve purchased from other advertisers, the conveyors of junk mail and other unwanted material, the people who fill up your halls and your bins with garbage, the landfill merchants. Those are the Royal Mail’s customers, not you. The people they make the money off.

See: that’s the hypocrisy of that advert. They know that postal workers are held in high regard by the public. They know that most of us will go out of our way to look after our customers, that we will do our best even in adverse circumstances, that we will give that cheery smile in the rain. That was always the case in the past, though it’s getting rarer and rarer as time goes by.

In the old days, we loved our job. It was great getting out and about, on the streets of our towns, delivering the service we knew you wanted. The work was energetic but satisfying. It brought us face to face with our neighbours. And we had a little time to spare back then. There were enough of us doing the job to get the work done and still have enough time left over to lead lives of our own.

Fifteen years ago, the average delivery span was two and a half hours. That’s two and a half hours of high-octane energy expenditure: a workout by any other name. It kept us fit, it kept us happy, it kept the endorphins flowing to our brains. It kept us smiling.

We would get up early to greet the dawn and have the mail on your doorstep by breakfast.

That’s not the case any more.

Ten years ago the delivery spans were increased to three and a half hours.

These days the average delivery span is four to four and a half hours. After two and a half hours of intense work the endorphins cease flowing and the pain starts to kick in. We walk till we ache. We no longer have time for our customers and we’re so dog-tired at the end of the day that we don’t even have time for ourselves. We eat, we sleep, we work, that’s all. There’s no energy left for anything else.

This is called “productivity”. Less posties doing more work, at a faster rate. In the past decade the company has lost 50,000 jobs, with more job losses promised now that it has been privatised.

Less jobs means more work for me. More hours on my feet. More weight in my trolley. More gates, more doorsteps, more letter boxes. More endless miles of trudging drudgery on the streets of my town.

The choice of the X Factor and Downton Abbey to air the advert was very telling.

The X Factor represents the illusion of capitalism, that we may find a way out of its servitude one day: that some of us, at least, through good luck or talent, will be given the keys to escape. Downton Abbey represents the reality: a servant class serving a privileged elite.

As a public service our service was to you, the public. As a privatised monopoly our service will be to the shareholders from now on.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/royal-mail-ad-management-customers

Magical Thinking

From the LRB blog.

One of my neighbours came over to say hello the day the Royal Mail was privatised.

‘I expect you’re looking forward to getting your hands on all that money you’ve just made,’ he said. The shares allocated to me as a member of staff had gone up by almost 40 per cent in a day. The government had brought forward the date of the IPO in order to beat a strike ballot by the Communication Workers’ Union. Most of us, like most people, were against the privatisation. It felt like my neighbour was congratulating me on taking a bribe.

I lost my temper, and told him what I really thought about the privatisation. I pointed out the contradictions: that the state has spent billions of pounds of public money to subsidise the bargain basement sell-off; that the pension fund was nationalised to sweeten the deal; that the loss-making Post Office was decoupled from its more successful partner and retained in public hands; that pricing restrictions were lifted in anticipation of privatisation, allowing the company to increase its profits.

None of this has got anything to do with the free market. This is direct government intervention to create a rigged market. If the price restrictions had been lifted ten years ago, the entire argument for privatisation would have disappeared overnight.

My neighbour said that governments shouldn’t be involved in the business of running companies. He said that privatisation would allow the company access to future investment. He said that previous privatisations had been a great success, and cited British Telecom and British Airways as examples. He said that taxpayers were fed up with subsidising the Royal Mail.

The argument went on for a while. Every time I was about to get in my car he’d say something that I had to contradict. I finally lost patience and drove away when he talked about the investors who were going to help the company become a big success: ‘They are wealth creators. They build the factories so that we can have jobs.’

You hear that phrase ‘wealth creators’ a lot. It is a commonly used justification for the privatisation agenda, the idea that these individuals generate wealth by their investment. They are the ‘wealth creators’, and we are the beneficiaries of that wealth. It’s a form of magical thinking, like the pharaohs believing that their rituals were responsible for the flooding of the Nile, a post hoc fallacy: because they have invested in the company and increased their wealth, their investment somehow ‘created’ the wealth. The actual wealth creation, the work that my colleagues and I do, in this version of reality, is an accidental by-product of the process, a privilege I am allowed by the goodwill of these magically endowed individuals.

Moya Greene, the chief executive of Royal Mail, has already told us to expect job losses. Very soon I expect to be begging for the privilege of working longer hours for less money.

– See more at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/10/24/roy-mayall/magical-thinking/#sthash.c9opEVX8.dpuf

It’s one law for the banks, another for the rest of us

vince

Locust

Vince Cable’s efforts to keep the Royal Mail in the hands of “blue chip investors” and away from “spivs and speculators” was delivered a blow this week when it emerged that the Children’s Investment Fund has taken a 5.8 per cent stake in the company following its privatisation earlier in the month.

The fund was founded by Chris Hohn, described as a “locust” by German politicians, and damned by the former CEO of Deutsche Börse, Werner Seifert, for his part in scuppering a previous business deal.

The London-based hedge fund has bought 58.2m shares or 5.8pc of Royal Mail. Under stock exchange rules, TCI had to declare its stake when it reached 5pc of the company. The threshold was reached on Friday.

Mr Cable has often criticised hedge funds for being short term investors and has repeatedly insisted that Royal Mail would be sold only to “long-term, blue chip” institutional investors.

Meanwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has responded to criticism that the government had sold off the Royal Mail too cheaply.

At a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event on Tuesday, he told his audience that initial public offers are routinely offered at a discount and the government had followed advice from its bankers on details of the sale.

“On all fronts it has been a great success,” he said.

Bargain basement

And in the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord Sugar, star of TVs The Apprentice, questioned the expertise of the banks which had been advising the government on the sale.

He demanded: “Why did these so called experts sell the stock at such low levels and get it totally wrong to such an extent that the stock rose by 33 per cent the day afterwards and since then 54% on the issue price?

“Bearing in mind other reputable banks had come on record giving a valuation of £5 billion, why were these banks ignored and what will you be doing by way of an inquiry in finding out who the lucky institutions were that underwrote this bargain basement sale?”

Government spokesman Lord Popat said the key objective had been to “secure value for money for the taxpayer”.

Pressed by Labour’s Lord Donoughue on the level of fees paid to the banks, Lord Popat said: “The underwriting banks will share a maximum fee of 1.2 per cent of the IPO receipts or £16.9 million. This maximum includes a potential discretionary fee of £4.2 million. The actual fee will be finalised shortly. Lazards will receive £1.5 million as the Government’s independent adviser.”

For those of you without a calculator, it means that three banks, UBS, Lazards and Goldman Sachs, share £18.4 million between them.

Markets

Of course, the usual reasoning behind the sale of the company, is that it would allow the Royal Mail access to the financial markets; but, you have to ask, what would have stopped the Royal Mail accessing the markets as a publicly owned company? The answer, it seems, is “very little.”

According to a letter in the Guardian prior to the Royal Mail’s flotation it “is purely the Treasury’s insistence on keeping to the UK’s unique borrowing rules, which are not followed by any other country.” The government-owned French energy company EDF, and the German transport company Arriva, have no such limitations, and operate freely in the UK. The Royal Mail was already classified by the Office of National Statistics as a public corporation and could have enjoyed the same freedoms as state-owned companies elsewhere in Europe. All that was needed was for the Treasury to adopt the same rules as other countries have had for decades.

The writer, John Perry, adds: “It continually surprises me that opponents of Royal Mail privatisation have not pursued this argument, especially as it addresses one of the government’s main arguments in favour of selling it off. Given that the government have already made a similar rule change in favour of the publicly rescued banks, there is a clear precedent for such a change in favour of Royal Mail.” This would  have rendered privatisation unnecessary, he says.

In other words, it’s one law for the banks, and another for the Royal Mail.

Shafted: the great Royal Mail rip-off

Chuka Umunna: “Royal Mail is being sold off on the cheap”

The price of Royal Mail shares has increased by almost 50%, from 330p to over 500p.

Thousands of investors have made huge profits just days after their initial investment.

Almost 700,000 small investors purchased £750 worth of shares and have witnessed an instantaneous increase in their value.

The government are under scrutiny for having undervalued the price of the Royal Mail.

It is the taxpayer who is set to pay the price for the government’s mistake as investors, large and small, are set to continue to benefit.

In the past few days the Royal Mail’s market value has soared to over £5 billion representing a £1.7 billion increase.

Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “Royal Mail is being sold off on the cheap with taxpayers being short-changed to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Yet out of touch ministers have ploughed on regardless and claimed this is a ‘triumph’. Increasingly this privatisation is looking like a botched job from an out-of-touch government that puts the wrong people first.”

The Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable has responded by branding the share price increase as “froth” and has encouraged people to focus on the long term implications of the sale.

However, Stockbrokers Peel Hunt responded by saying: “This is not ‘froth’; it’s real people buying, selling, averaging down.”

It is thought over 100 million shares were purchased in the first hour of trading and an estimated 700,000 people were given 227 shares worth £750.

The unusually high demand has lead some commentators to question why so many people are investing in them and whether the government did in fact completely undervalue the business.

Cable has asked people to think about the long term future of the Royal Mail, and has indicated that he has attempted to keep the company in the right hands.

Almost 40,000 people who tried to acquire more than £10,000 worth of shares were denied any form of sale.

It is also thought that government denied a number of city investors and hedge funds in a bid to keep the business out of their hands, although 70% of the shares did, in fact, go to large investors.

Cable said that demand across the country was so large that the government was able to stop shares being sold to “spivs and speculators” and instead could focus on sales to “responsible long-term institutional investors”.

Meanwhile, the National Audit Office will launch an inquiry into the allegations that the business was undervalued.

– See more at: http://www.moneyexpert.com/news/shafted-taxpayers-suffer-royal-mail-shares-soar/800582360

Royal Mail privatisation will hurt rural communities, says vicar

The Rev John Owen, vicar of Froxfield, Privett and Steep, with Royal Mail postman John Luker at the post box opposite Froxfield Church

Originally published here.

A vicar of three Hampshire villages fears the privatisation of Royal Mail will hurt rural communities.

The Reverend John Owen is vicar of the villages of Froxfield, Steep and Privett, near Petersfield.

He praised his local postman, John Luker, who has collected and delivered letters in the villages between Petersfield and Alton for 32 years.

“John knows the local roads like the back of his hand. He doesn’t use a SatNav, never gets lost, and knows a good many of the 800 inhabitants of Froxfield and Privett by name,” said Mr Owen.

“If something is amiss, John is likely to notice it on his delivery round and will raise the alarm.

“We wonder how economically viable his job will be when the flotation of the Royal Mail takes place.”

Mr Owen said villagers were sceptical about official assurances of a continued daily collection and delivery in the hamlets. Most predict a weekly collection, which will mean villagers have to drive to larger towns nearby to post urgent items.

“John Luker represents that bit of community capital and cohesion which does so much for the well-being of the rural community,” said Mr Owen.

“He’s not unlike the landlord of the local pub and the people who have been running the village shop for years. They help to bind the community together.”

The vicar said rural communities would be poorer, emptier and less attractive as a place to live without the postal service.

“As Christians, we are aware that life can’t be quantified in a balance sheet,” he said.

“Our church members will be challenging this thinking and finding new ways to serve their rural communities – churches hosting post offices is just one way they are already helping.

“But my plea would be for us to hold back from privatisation of the Royal Mail until these issues have been thought through properly.”

Mr Luker added: “I have 283 calls to do, and drive about 36 miles a day from our office in Petersfield. I know any private firm wouldn’t have the same kind of local knowledge that I have. I love these villages and I know about 90 per cent of the people who live here, by sight or by their Christian names. It will be hard to replace that.”

How popular is the sale of Royal Mail?

Not very popular with these guys

David Cameron calls it ‘popular capitalism‘. He is referring to the fact that the flotation of the Royal Mail was oversubscribed many times. On the back of this he is planning even more sell-offs. But how many people could actually afford the £750 required to buy the minimum amount of shares in the company? Very few, I would think. Only the well off have that sort of money to spare these days.

As for us employees, well we had the right to buy shares at a reduced rate, as well as the shares that we were given. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any spare money either, and I can’t imagine that many employees would have taken up the offer. Except on the highest level of management, that is, where, once again, certain people, including chief executive Moya Greene, have done extremely well.

Eleven directors have between them more than 35,000 shares in the firm. Those shares started off being worth around £115,500 but are now worth more than £168,000.

Moya Greene has 3,643 shares in the company. They started off being worth just over £12,000 but were worth £17,300 within less than a week.

Ms Greene’s basic salary is £498,000, but other benefits mean her total package is around £1.1m.

Meanwhile Peter Davies, a member of management committee for Lansdowne Partners, and a close friend of George Osborne, saw the value of his company’s shares rise by £18 million after just one day’s trading.

In fact 67% of the British public were against the privatisation. Only 4% were ’strongly’ in favor. 96% of Royal Mail employees were against the sale.

In other words, what Cameron really means when he refers to the popularity of the sale is that it is popular with investors and with higher management. With his friends, in other words. They’re obviously the only ones that Cameron thinks are important.

Royal Mail Shares: Vince Cable Defends Goldman Sachs and UBS-Backed Offer Price

So guess who was behind the undervaluation of the Royal Mail? That’s right: it was Goldman Sachs, the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”, as described by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone in 2009. According to Taibbi, not only was Goldman Sachs behind the financial collapse of 2008, but it has been heavily involved in every collapse since the Great Depression, engineering them in order to extract profits. It was Goldman Sachs who valued the Royal Mail at £3.30 a share, despite earlier valuations putting it much higher, at £5.00 a share, the current price. I wonder how many shares Goldman Sachs’ employees bought in advance of the sale in order to cash in on their gross underestimation of the price? Vince Cable talked disparagingly of “spivs and gamblers” in 2010, and yet here he is doing a deal with them, listening to their faulty advice.

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/515029/20131018/royal-mail-shares-price-vince-cable-goldman.htm

Labour accused over Royal Mail

Labour and Ed Miliband could have stopped the Royal Mail privatisation “dead in its tracks” if they had vowed to renationalise the service, an SNP MSP claimed.

James Dornan said if Labour had pledged to do this if it won the 2015 general election, no-one would have bought Royal Mail shares

The Glasgow Cathcart MSP hit out at the loss of the “valuable public service” after some 690,000 small investors bought stock in the highest-profile privatisation for years.

He told the SNP annual conference in Perth the sell-off had resulted in ” a billion pound bonus in 24 hours given in the main to those already seriously well off”.

He added: ” One of their saddest most disappointing aspects of this privatisation is that if Labour had the courage of this Scottish Government, if Ed Miliband had half the sense of social responsibility and decency that our First Minister has, he could have stopped it dead in its tracks.

“Who would have bought shares in the Royal Mail if Red Ed had come out and said Labour would renationalise it? No-one.”

http://www.irvineherald.co.uk/ayrshire-news/scottish-news/2013/10/19/labour-accused-over-royal-mail-75485-33963556/

The Sale of the Royal Mail and the Birth of the New Feudalism

Universal Service

The Royal Mail is approaching 500 years old – 497 to be exact. It was established in 1516 by Henry VIII. It has always been in public hands. Unlike other privatisations, where, perhaps, there might be some argument for saying that they were originally established as private companies and that privatisation means a return to some sort of “natural order”, the Royal Mail has always been owned by the government, having been part of the civil service originally, and afterwards treated as a public service.

There’s a good case to argue that the Royal Mail is one of the forces which helped to create the British Nation. The USO (universal service obligation) by which a letter between the Scilly Isles and the Outer Hebrides costs the same as a letter from the City of London to Westminster, helped bind the nation together. Would this have been done if the company had been privately owned? Certainly not. The aim of private companies is to maximise returns for their shareholders. A private company would have created a postal service which ran between the big cities but would never have included any of the remote and rural areas, which are always going to make a loss.

Historically the profitable parts of the Royal Mail were used to subsidise the unprofitable parts in order to create a unified service. But, in order to make the Royal Mail profitable, in order to sell it, the government has had to retain the Post Office in public hands. Until two years ago they were the same company. The Post Office has always made a loss and has always been subsidised by the Royal Mail. From now on it will be subsidised by the taxpayer instead.

It’s privatisation of profit, socialisation of cost. We, the taxpayer, pay for the unprofitable parts, while the sovereign wealth funds, the hedge funds and the City wiz-kids take a nice cut of the privatised cake.

It was us, the taxpayer who invested in the postal industry, not the people who are currently making a quick buck from its gross misselling. It was us, the nation, who generated the company. We are the investors. Everything has been created in public hands. All the infrastructure, the network, the systems, all of this has been built at public expense over those 500 years of history. Plus all of the political, social and economic engineering that has gone on since the privatisation of the Royal Mail was first mooted by Richard Hooper in 2008 – the modernisation programme, the restructuring of the industry, the investment in new equipment – all of it has been done by us, in order to sweeten the privatisation, in order pay dividends to the large investors, to the Emir of Kuwait and his family. It’s a form of asset stripping in disguise.

The Emir of Kuwait is the absolute ruler of a medieval, feudal state, fabulously wealthy because he has claimed the assets of his nation for himself. And this is the real basis of this, and all other, privatisations: the mining of public assets for private consumption. Future profits will be generated by lessening the pay and conditions of the workers. Moya Greene has already said that there will be further job cuts. That can only mean that us postal workers will be expected to work harder. We will be expected to work harder so that the Emir of Kuwait can take home even larger dividends.

Natural monopoly

Since the privatisation people have congratulated me on the profit I’ve made from the increased value of the shares which have been promised. I haven’t even seen them yet. This just makes me angry: firstly because I know that it was a bribe, and secondly that it is the investment firms who will be taking the profits, while we, the workers, will be paying the costs in terms of our health and well-being. We’re not even allowed to sell our shares for three years, by which time who knows what they will be worth?

The cost of water has increased by 245% since privatisation. The argument was that privatisation would lead to investment. In fact it hasn’t. Investment in the maintenance of the water supply has decreased since privatisation, and there is a very strong case for re-nationalisation. It was also argued that privatisation would lead to competition, but in the case of water there can only be one water supply at a time, so there is no competition. It is a natural monopoly, which means we’ve replaced a publicly owned and publicly accountable monopoly, with a private monopoly.

The Royal Mail is also a natural monopoly. What competition there is, is rigged through various regulatory mechanisms. In a truly free market, none of them would survive. The Royal Mail, too, will remain effectively a private monopoly.

Another argument for privatisation is that it saves on public subsidy and is more efficient, but in the case of the rail industry – another botched privatisation exercise – we’ve seen subsidies increase fourfold, while the one publicly owned rail company which still exists – East Coast – is actually the most efficient, and takes the least subsidies.

The term “wealth creator” – which is often applied to the entrepreneurs who will be investing in the company  – is a piece of self-generated propaganda. The wealthy grow wealthier, and then say, “look, we’ve created this wealth.” But as they grow wealthier, so we grow poorer. There’s a direct correlation between the two. What is really happening is a form of wealth redistribution: from the public to the private, from the less well off to the wealthy. It’s communism for the rich. One group, the 1% with wealth and power and access to government, enrich themselves at the expense of the majority. They are the new robber barons and what we are watching is the growth of a new feudalism, in which a corporate elite lord it over us using debt as a form of rent.

We have to think more deeply about what creates wealth, and what wealth actually is. Vast sections of the world’s population live in abject poverty, while an elite few can ride around in private jets and own property in several nations. That’s not wealth by my definition. That’s not wealth by any definition. That’s poverty, on a grand scale.

That’s feudalism.

The privatisation argument goes back to the eighties, when deregulation, privatisation, supply side economics and the neoliberal agenda was first put into practice, first of all by Pinochet in Chile, and then by Thatcher in the UK. It was an experiment back then, but now we can see the results. And the results are economic devastation, impoverishment, economic collapse, indebtedness, austerity and an exponential growth in the wealth of the world’s elites.

Exponential growth is always unsustainable. The collapse of 2008 was only the beginning.

Who knows what the future will bring?

Privatisation of the Royal Mail

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As I’m sure you are all aware, the Royal Mail was privatised on Friday 11th October 2013.

It was sold for £3.3 billion. Within a day the share price had risen by 38%, meaning that the company was seriously undervalued and some people made a quick profit.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union, said, ‘If you sold your house and the buyer sold it on the next day for 38% profit, you’d ask “what was the estate agent doing?”’

Actually it is even worse than this. If you remember, the government took on the company’s pension liability two years ago. That was at a cost to the exchequer of over £10 billion.

So in this case the government has spent three times the value of the property, in order to sell it at a significant loss, in order for the new buyer to then sell it on for a profit.

Meanwhile, the company has spent the last two years modernising the business. Postal workers have been provided with new vans, new trolleys, new walk-sequencing machines, new GPS devices, new bags, new shelving units, new uniforms, and a range of other equipment. Delivery offices have been closed all over the country and consolidated into larger units. Costs have been cut and door-to-door (junk mail) incorporated into the work load. New working methods have been introduced, and every round in the country has been extensively restructured.

All of this has been done at the taxpayers expense, of course.

The regulator has lifted pricing restrictions, which means that the company is now making a healthy profit. So, you have to ask, why couldn’t the regulator lift the restrictions earlier, in which case the company could have been earning a healthy profit for the taxpayer for years?

70% of the company has been sold to large investors: to banks, hedge funds, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, including the one belonging to the Kuwaiti Royal Family. In other words, the British public have taken a significant loss so that this fabulously wealthy family can extract even more wealth for themselves.

The Kuwaiti Royal Family are the absolute rulers of a medieval feudal state. Not ‘wealth creators’. Wealth extractors. That means that postal workers in the future are going to be the servants of a feudal Lord. Serfs, in other words. Who says there’s no such thing as progress?

Moya Greene, the current CEO, has also said there will be further job losses, which can only mean that postal workers will be expected to work harder. She took £1.47 million in pay and bonuses last year. No doubt she will be given substantial share options too, now that the company is in private hands.

So what will this mean for you? Let’s make the comparison with previous privatisations.

Water charges have risen by 245% since the water boards were privatised. Subsidies to the rail industry have more than doubled, while fares have increased above the rate of inflation and standards have declined. And in the same week that the Royal Mail was floated on the stock exchange, the energy company SSE put up its prices by 8.2%. More price rises are expected to follow.

Our public utilities are now almost exclusively owned by foreign corporations.

Did you know that the origin of the word ‘idiot’ is from the Greek word meaning ‘private’? Or, to put it another way, the sale of Royal Mail has brought even more idiocy into our public life.

cropped-grannysmith-cover2.jpg

The Cost of Privatisation

A walk sequencing machine at work in a Royal Mail office

From the LRB Blog.

In the last year our delivery office has moved from working on bikes to working in vans.

There are two of us to a van, doing two rounds between us. We’ve also been given new trolleys so we can carry more weight, new bags to fit onto the new trolleys, and new tracking devices to show customers exactly where their post is. They also, coincidentally, show the Royal Mail exactly where its employees are.

We’ve been given new tools in the office too: a wheeled basket each, like an oversized shopping trolley (called a ‘mini-york’), for moving our bags about, and a new storage and shelving unit for keeping our equipment in.

Our rounds have been extensively restructured to take account of the new working methods. For the past year a union rep, a manager and a planner have been huddled together in a room working out every detail of every round: how long it takes to open every gate, to walk up every path, to deliver every letter.

Everything about the Royal Mail operation is being changed. There are very expensive new walk-sequencing machines in most offices, for sorting the post into the order in which it will be delivered, new regional mail centres, where the post is gathered together and then sifted and sorted for delivery to local offices, and new lorries for shifting it around the country. Meanwhile hundreds of local offices have been closed and consolidated into larger units serving several towns at a time.

So far the Royal Mail has invested £2.1 billion in its modernisation programme, buying around 36,000 new tracking devices, 30,000 new trolleys and 11,500 new vans, and building new mail centres around the country.

All of this is being done at public expense in advance of privatisation. When the Royal Mail is floated later this year, it is expected to fetch up to £3 billion.

Royal Mail: Code of Business Standards

Code

250px-royal_mail-svg

All Royal Mail employees were sent a pamphlet recently, called Our Code: Code of Business Standards.

Why it needed to repeat the word “Code” twice in the title isn’t clear.

The pamphlet is subtitled “The Royal Mail Group code of business standards and values that we all must live by.”

Thus the word “code” is repeated three times on the cover.

Is this code for something, I wonder? Does the pamphlet contain hidden meaning behind the words on its glossy pages? Are there secrets to be found?

We will have to wait and see.

On the surface it’s a fairly bland and predictable document, covering areas of conduct within the company that you would expect to see in literature of this kind.

The pamphlet is divided into two parts. Part 1: Business behaviour covers such issues as “Health and safety”, “Service to our customers”, “Commercial behaviour and compliance”, and “Security, privacy and trust” amongst others; while Part 2: Personal behaviour covers issues like “Equality and fairness”, “Managers duty of care” and “Working with colleagues”. There’s nothing in the pamphlet you wouldn’t expect to see.

The pamphlet opens with a statement of values: “Royal Mail Group’s values reflect the principles, beliefs and aspirations that guide our behaviour and shape our culture.”

It then lists what these values are:

1) We work safely

2) We have a passion to deliver for our customers

3) We have pride and care about what we do

4) We work together and treat each other fairly

5) We are trusted to succeed

6) We act commercially

The emphasis belongs to the Royal Mail.

Most of this is obvious. Some of it is a little strange. For instance, since when did delivery to customers arouse my passion? I mean, pride and care are fair enough. But passion?

“An intense, driving or uncontrollable feeling” according to my dictionary. “An outbreak of anger.” “Ardent affection; love.” “Strong sexual desire.”

I’m not really sure we should allow too much passion into our work on this basis. It could distract from the more mundane task of posting letters. Also, the fact that this is supposed to apply to our customers could easily be misunderstood. What is it we are meant to be delivering exactly? At the very least it leaves you with the strange impression of a postal worker down on his knees on your front door step as he passionately delivers your mail.

If only we had more time….

After that we are given a list of expectations. “What you can expect from us…” and “What we can expect from you…”

There’s nothing unexpected here, and fortunately, in this case, we are not expected to do anything passionate either.

Only one thing stands out. The Royal Mail promises that it will support individuals to “raise any genuine concerns”.

Well I do have genuine concerns about the way the Royal Mail is conducting its business and, from what I hear at the office, almost every other employee does too. I wonder how much the company really intends to help us in the task of raising them?

Commitments

The next part sets out our personal commitments.

We will be asked to agree to:

A) Follow the Our Code: Code of Business standards and policies &

B) Raise any serious concerns.

First of all, what strange language is this? “Follow the Our Code”? Since when did the possessive follow the definite article? It’s not even proper English, which again, makes me puzzle if there’s not some secret message behind all of this. “The Our Code” implies that the words “Our Code” have some defined meaning, separate from the one we usually associate with them, like the terms and conditions in a contract which people don’t bother to read, but which turn out to be disadvantageous to the signer.

There’s a whiff of legalese in this language.

And again it repeats that I should raise any serious concerns.

To quote:

“If you discover that the company’s standards and reputation are being put at risk by unethical or criminal behaviour, you should report the facts to a manager.” And it continues: “Of course, we realise it is not always easy reporting unethical or criminal behaviour.”

Fortunately the next section is laid out to help us with this.

It is called “Making the right decision” and it tells us that we should use this pamphlet to guide us when difficult decisions arise. “Of course, not every situation you encounter is covered: some decisions are clear cut, whereas others are more open to interpretation.”

After this it lists some questions to consider to help us in our decision.

I will quote this in full as it is important:

At some time in our working lives, it says, we all confront dilemmas about whether an action is right. If we are faced with a dilemma we are to ask our selves:

  • Is it in line with Royal Mail Group code of business standards, values and policies?
  • Does it feel right?
  • Is it lawful?
  • Will it reflect negatively on you or Royal Mail Group?
  • Would you be happy to defend your decision in public?
  • Who else could be affected by this (e.g. colleagues, clients)?
  • Would you be concerned if others knew you took this course of action?
  • Is there a better alternative action?

Closure

So now we come to the nitty-gritty: the closure of local Delivery Offices, and their relocation to cities or industrial parks, sometimes several miles away, and how that relates to the code.

To take the points one by one.

  • Is the closure in line with Royal Mail Group code of business standards, values and policies?

No, because later in the document it states clearly that the company is “committed to taking account of the environmental and ethical effects of our policies in our planning and operations”, and this decision will clearly have a negative impact on the environment, forcing large numbers of postal workers to drive to and from work, and adding upwards of 5,000 extra miles a week to our travelling. That’s around a quarter of a million extra miles a year, in round figures, making this decision disastrous for the environment.

  • Does it feel right?

No. The odd thing here is that, despite the fact that the company clearly states environmental concerns as part of its ethical policy, whenever you mention the environmental impact of the move they dismiss it. Commercial interests always come before environmental concerns, it seems. This smacks of hypocrisy, or of “green-washing”: making positive-sounding statements which are just covers for a policy which will have a negative impact on the environment.

  • Is it lawful?

No it is not. According to the Climate Change Act 2008, there are legally binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050. Air quality levels are already in breach of the law, so the incursion of up to 200 private vehicles into the area, and around 100 postal vans all exiting at the same time, is bound to push those levels up even more. Of course, this is not the Royal Mail’s area of responsibility. It is up to the council to police air quality, and they have no power to stop this move, thus allowing the Royal Mail to claim “concern for the environment” while simultaneously breaching all legal obligations.

  • Will it reflect negatively on you or Royal Mail Group?

Yes it will. Customers hate this. They are very, very angry. They express their anger to us on a regular basis. Anyone who wants to measure the degree of anger and frustration felt by customers need only spend some time in the Parcels Office when residents are there to pick up their undelivered mail. Unfortunately it is the ordinary staff there who hear the complaints and who sometimes have to put up with abuse, and not the senior managers who are actually responsible, who are safely cushioned from the consequences of their decision in comfortable offices far from the scene.

  • Would you be happy to defend your decision in public?

This isn’t quite clear. What decision are we talking about here? If it’s the Royal Mail’s decision to close the Delivery Office, then, no, I would not be happy to defend it in public. The opposite, in fact. I am opposed to it, and have made my views known, through a number of outlets. But if it is our decision to oppose the closures, and to do everything in our power to stop it, then, yes, I am more than happy to defend my decision in public. Let everyone hear. It is the most ridiculous, short-sighted, damaging and indefensible decision that the Royal Mail could possibly have made.

  • Who else could be affected by this (e.g. colleagues, clients)?

Everyone will be affected by this. Royal Mail staff will be forced to drive to and from work, while now large numbers of us walk or cycle, while people living around the office will have to put up with the increased traffic and parking problems. Meanwhile residents will be forced to travel many miles to pick up their mail, or to wait until the item is redelivered, perhaps several days later. Even if customers are happy with these arrangements, there are still some categories of mail that cannot be redelivered: such as mail with an excess charge, or PO Box mail. Customers will definitely have to travel to to collect these. Imagine the frustration of travelling several miles – taking two buses, or up to half an hour’s drive each way – only to find that your excess charge mail was an item you didn’t want in the first place!

  • Would you be concerned if others knew you took this course of action?

Yes, I am deeply concerned. I am ashamed of the company I work for, making decisions which negatively impact upon its own customers, and even upon its own business interests. The cost of this move is ridiculous: at least £180,000 a year in lost wages alone, as postal workers are forced to drive to and from their rounds instead of just going out of the door and delivering, as many of them do now. This is not to speak of petrol costs and maintenance of vehicles, and the negative impact on the company as more and more customers find alternative ways of getting their mail. The Royal Mail has many rivals, but it currently has one distinct advantage over all of them: it’s network of local delivery offices in every town. Why throw away a long-term advantage for the sake of short-term profit? It doesn’t make any sense.

  • Is there a better alternative action?

Yes there is. We could keep the Delivery Offices open, thus saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost wages and a huge negative impact upon our customers and on the environment. Or we could open a new office. The company claims that this would be too expensive, that, although there are many suitable buildings available, it would cost too much to upgrade them to legal safety standards. But what’s the alternative? They will have £650,000 from the sale of the current office, a sum which would be used up in less than three years in extra costs if they go ahead with this move.

Invest that money in a new building and save money year on year. Keep our customers happy and our rivals from our door. Look after the environment and retain the link between postal workers and the town where they work. Stop unnecessary travelling. That is the genuine alternative.

Royal Mail Modernisation: Golf Trolleys Versus Bikes

Modernisation

Modern workers with modern tools

The Royal Mail is undertaking a major modernisation programme at the moment. Gone are the old, worn-out, Victorian ways of doing things, to be replaced by new, sleek, 21st Century methods.

Gone are the traditional, old fashioned bikes, for example, in use for more than a hundred years, to be replaced by golf-trolleys.

Here are some of the many ways in which golf-trolleys have proved themselves more modern than bikes:

1.

You have to walk with a golf-trolley. You cannot scoot, glide, pedal or push. You cannot relax on a downhill run and allow the bike to take the weight. Obviously this means you are much slower with a golf-trolley than with a bike, making the round that much longer. But it has the advantage that you are expected to walk at a steady four miles an hour, which means that the computer back in the office can calculate exactly where on your round you are supposed to be. See how modern this is? It means that the man on the ground is connected to a computer. And computers are very modern.

2.

A golf-trolley has only two positions. You can push it, or you can pull it. This is unlike the bike, which has numerous positions. You can push a bike and park it. You can push from the right hand side or you can push from the left. You can leave a bike and walk. You can scoot a bike. You can use your left leg to scoot, or your right. You can get on your bike and pedal. You can pedal standing up or you can pedal sitting down. Or you can simply sit on a bike and let it freewheel down a slope. This is obviously wrong. The Royal Mail doesn’t pay its workers to sit on bikes. It pays its workers to work. This is why the golf-trolley is much superior to the bike. The work is much harder with a golf-trolley than it is with a bike. The Royal Mail workers go home much more tired than they used to do. They ache in every bone. See how modern this is? It means the Royal Mail is getting its money’s worth.

3.

In the old days postal workers used to park up their bikes and do a loop. They would take a bundle of letters, walk up one side of the road, and then down the other. Then they would pick up their bike and cycle on to the next loop. The new delivery method is very similar. It is called “Park & Loop”. Except that instead of a bike, the postie now uses a van. This too is much more modern than a bike. Bikes don’t use diesel, whereas vans do. Bikes don’t give off Carbon Dioxide gases, whereas vans do. Bikes are cheap, whereas vans are expensive. Bikes don’t get caught in traffic, whereas vans do. Bikes don’t break down all that often, and when they do they are easy and cheap to fix, whereas when a van breaks down it has to be hauled off to a workshop. And the vans aren’t fixed in-house any more, they are fixed by a sub-contractor attached to the dealer. Meanwhile the Royal Mail has tied itself to the dictators and despots in the oil producing countries, and to a technology with hardly any future. You can’t get more modern than that.

4.

A modern means of transport

Bikes are easy to park, whereas vans are not. Bikes can be parked on the pavement, whereas vans have to be parked on the road. Vans cannot be parked where there are double yellow lines, whereas a bike can. Bikes can be leaned against a tree or on the nearest wall, whereas a van has to spend time looking for a parking place. This is the modern way of going about things. If it isn’t difficult, it isn’t worth doing. It keeps the Royal Mail workers on their toes, having to think. It blocks the rest of the traffic up while the postie parks the van, causing more hold ups and more frustration, the way the modern world was meant to be.

5.

Bikes can be used in a number of different ways: as a road vehicle, or on the pavement, as a trolley, as a scooter, as a work-station, as a place to sort and store your mail. There are several different parts to a bike. There’s the tray on the front for carrying bags, and the panniers on the back for carrying parcels. There’s the rack over the rear wheel which can be used to sort the mail. You can use the panniers for itemising the mail and helping you to remember. One pannier can be used for parcels still to be delivered, and the other for parcels which have to be returned to the office. This too is an advantage that vans and golf-trolleys have over bikes. Bikes are obviously too versatile for the modern world. Versatility is an old-fashioned virtue, like politeness or decency or cheerfulness or being concerned about our customer’s welfare. Such things can be dispensed with in the new, thrusting 21st Century world.

6.

The new delivery method involves parking up the van, getting out the golf-trolley, loading it up with bags, and then doing a loop. There are two posties in the van, doing two loops simultaneously. This has the advantage that the two posties might be travelling at different speeds. One of them might be a slow and steady type who does everything by the book. The other might be a flyer. He might jog along, skipping over walls and obstacles along the way. One postie might be old, the other might be young. One might be worn-out the other might be fit. One might be cautious the other might be carefree. This too is a good thing. Posties love their job because they love working on their own. They like going at their own speed and not being obliged to other people. Who says posties should love their job? They should learn to hate it like everyone else.

7.

The rule with the golf-trolley is that you have to take it everywhere you go. You cannot park it up and leave it, as you can a bike. A bike can be locked, whereas a golf-trolley cannot. What this means is that both hands are full. One hand is carrying the bundle, the other hand is pushing the trolley. You cannot rifle through the bundle as you are walking. You have to stop at the end of every path, sort through your bundle, and then deliver. This slows you up even more. This is a good thing. It means the postal worker is only doing one thing at a time. He is either walking or he is sorting through the mail. Postal workers are notoriously inept. They cannot walk, fart and sort at the same time. There are walking times and sorting times and farting times and each has its proper place. Walking while farting is not allowed either. In order to fart one must stop still until the gaseous emission has been satisfactorily expelled before continuing on one’s way.

8.

Golf-trolleys were originally designed for carrying golf-clubs. So naturally it would have occurred to Royal Mail executives to use them for carrying the mail. The idea must have arrived on a golf-course. One day an executive was playing golf. It was a working day so of course he was playing golf. And he realised just how much weight his golf-trolley could take. A whole heavy golf-bag of full of clubs. He had his caddy with him. It was like a neon light flickering on in his head, a sudden burst of illumination. Of course! Postal workers are just like caddies really. Why not get them to use golf-trolleys instead of bikes? And he swung his six iron and landed straight on the green.

9.

But the main advantage of the new delivery method over the old is that it doesn’t in any way take the worker’s needs into account. It was imposed from above, without consultation with the staff. It was devised in the drawing room, in the office and the boardroom. It was negotiated with the union and then presented as a fait accompli. It was either take it or leave it and take early retirement. No other choice was on offer. It doesn’t matter whether it is more efficient or less. What matters is that it has created a new disincentive for the workforce to care about their job. It has alienated the worker even more. It has reinforced the worker’s view of himself as a replaceable cog in a large and complex machine. It has reminded him of just how meaningless he is. This, of course, is entirely right and proper, because this is all he is, and the sooner he gets used to it, the better.

Welcome to the modern world.

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