Royal Mail privatisation concerns raised

Concerns over the future of the island’s mail service were raised in the Comhairle last week ahead of the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Councillors were keen to see the islands lobby for protection of the Universal Service Obligation and to ensure rural communities are not adversely affected by the change.

Chief among the concerns were a reduction in the number of delivery days, from six to five, a reduced postal service for the Western Isles, reduced quality of service and ceasing first-class mail.

A report before councillors stated: “If the Outer Hebrides demands the continuation of a first-class mail service for all its communities then the Government’s plan to privatise Royal Mail poses a potential threat to the continuation of the universal service.”

It added: “The postal services regulator [Ofcom] has also apparently been conducting research into postal services which includes looking at changes to the universal service.”

Cllr Rae Mackenzie was among those concerned about the potential impact.

He said: “At the end of the day it we will be the ones who suffer most.”

It was widely agreed that working together with other island authorities to push for the protection of the service should be the way forward. However both Ofcom and the Royal Mail dispute that islanders will be worse off following privatisation.

Gerry O’Rourke, Royal Mail Operations Director North, said: “I want to assure all our customers that the six-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere, affordable universal postal service will remain unchanged.”

He added: “It is also protected by law – enshrined in the Postal Services Act 2011. Any change would have to be passed through an affirmative vote in Parliament.”

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “It is categorically not the case that Ofcom is looking to conduct research with a view to reducing postal services in island areas.

“On the contrary, having concluded an extensive review of the needs of UK postal users in March, we decided to make no changes to the scope of the universal service.”

She added: “Ofcom has made clear that we have no plans to recommend any such change.”

Meanwhile Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has described the decision to privatise Royal mail as “deeply flawed”. He said: “Many people in our islands contacted me and took the time to get involved with the campaign against Royal Mail privatisation.

“This is a deeply flawed Westminster decision, which threatens to have particularly harmful consequences for Scotland where so many of our rural communities and so much of our rural economy rely on our existing Royal Mail service. The UK Government are refusing to heed the real and genuine concerns that privatisation will mean a reduction in rural services as companies cherry-pick and compete in the larger urban areas.”