Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Huw Lewis Column

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Huw Lewis Column

Article excerpt

Byline: By Huw Lewis

I heard a radio talk show presenter last week ask listeners if it was time to privatise the Royal Mail, given the poor service we receive from our posties.

This suggests to me that the woman was either a fool, was forced to say foolish things by the limitations of broadcasting, or had been fooled by the Government spin machine.

Can we still really be mired in the conviction that the answer to every problem faced by our public services is to auction them to the highest bidder?

And are we really going to fall for the same trick ministers in a previous government used with the railways ( starve the infrastructure of cash and public investment, watch passively as customers get a worse and worse deal and then present privatisation as the only solution to the problems they have themselves created?

It is almost a decade since a Labour shadow minister, Andrew Smith, vowed before his party conference to save the Royal Mail from impending privatisation.

When he made his speech John Major's government was not actually proposing privatisation ( but it was all good tub-thumping stuff.

Or it would have been had Mr Smith and his colleagues, once in office, drawn up plans for Royal Mail to face the challenges of the future. There have been none, beyond glibly demanding it break even while still adapting to compete with commercial rivals unburdened by the public service requirement of door-to-door delivery.

As a result one of our proudest public services has been run into the ground, with smaller sub-post offices closed in villages and urban housing estates.

Nine out of 10 first class letters are still delivered on time in the North East but in Oxford ( ironically where Mr Smith has his constituency ( that figure has fallen to just 68pc. We have about the cheapest first class post in Europe ( with most of our continental neighbours charged between 40p and 50p ( but we are lumbered with the cut-price service we pay for, while most bizarrely of all Royal Mail has to pay pounds 50m in fines for failing to meet targets.

And we have been here before. …

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