Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to ruin a postal service

Hot on the heels of the stunning revelation that opening the postal service to competition has brought no benefits to the users we are now being told by the official watchdog that the only way to save the Royal Mail is to sell it off.


For the vast majority of people we didn't need an investigation or study to tell us that the postal service has got worse since the monopoly ended - the fact that the morning post which used to arrive before breakfast (as did our daily pinta and newspaper) doesn't usually turn up until lunchtime was evidence enough.

The reason why is simple. The bread and butter purpose of the postal service is to deliver mail to the doorstep of every person in Britain - and that is always going to be expensive to provide and unattractive to private operators. The Royal Mail - when it had a monopoly - could offset that cost by operating other services to businesses.

By taking that monopoly away it was always going to be the case that other "postal service" providers would cherry pick the bits that were financially viable - you can't blame them for that - and that meant taking large chunks of Royal Mail's profitable side away while leaving them as the only operator which HAS to provide the service which costs so much money.

The Victorians understood this. They were not big fans of "nationalisation" or monopolies in Victorian times, but they had the sense to realise that if you are going to provide a high quality universal postal service to every house in Britain you could only do it by guaranteeing the provider of that service an absolute monopoly - otherwise it just isn't worth their while.

The ONLY way to restore the postal service to the level it was is to close off the competition and give Royal Mail a total monopoly again. It won't happen, so the postal service will get worse and worse. I guarantee it.

In ten years time there will be no universal postal service - users will pay more to send mail to some places than others, there will be no Saturday deliveries, the post will not be delivered to the majority of households until well into the afternoon, first class mail will rarely be delivered the day after it is sent and some homes won't see deliveries of any mail for 2-3 days at a time.

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