Royal Mail should deliver to “hubs not homes”

​Ofcom – the communications regulator which has as part of its remit the Royal Mail – is “doing some thinking” about how the Universal Service Obligation “needs to evolve to meet changing consumer needs”.
The Universal Service Obligation was a founding principle of the Royal Mail, but under privitisation could be about to change. (Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)The Universal Service Obligation was a founding principle of the Royal Mail, but under privitisation could be about to change. (Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
The Universal Service Obligation was a founding principle of the Royal Mail, but under privitisation could be about to change. (Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

​The Obligation is a vital mechanism as it protects a uniform service in remote and rural areas like the Western Isles.

However, the comment by Ofcom’s director of strategy, Ian Strawhorne, comes at a time when Royal Mail, which was privatised when Lord Cameron was Prime Minister, is demanding to be freed from its commitments on a universal service

Royal Mail’s key demands are to reduce deliveries to just five days a week and to replace house to house deliveries in much of the Highlands and Islands with “hubs” from which mail could be collected.

Ofcom has just fined Royal Mail £5.6 million for failing to meet First and Second Class delivery targets.

Mr Strawthorne’s accompanying statement said: “The company has let consumers down and today’s fines should act as a wake-up call – it must take its responsibilities more seriously. We’ll continue to hold Royal Mail to account”.

However, speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Strawthorne made his comments that “the Universal Service Obligation hasn’t changed for 12 years” and Ofcom is “doing some thinking” about it.

In the same item, a former strategy director for the Royal Mail, Nick Pendleton, was more specific on the need for change.

“The company has to adapt”, he said. “In a lot of the Highlands and Islands, it costs a lot to deliver to them every day.

"You could set up a hub where people could collect their post, say three or four times (a week). You could even pay them to do it and everyone would be better off”.

To head off criticism at the time of privatisation being driven through, the Royal Mail ‘s new owners were obliged to accept conditions which included six day deliveries and collections; also conveying mail “from one place to another by post at affordable, geographically uniform prices throughout the UK”.