MP’s reassurances over Royal Mail ‘scare stories’
MP Alistair Carmichael has again moved to reassure concerned islanders that the rural postal service will be protected following the partial sell-off of Royal Mail.
The coalition government last week unveiled plans for a £3 billion privatisation in the next six weeks. In response, it is expected Royal Mail staff will launch a rolling programme of strike action.
At least half of the 497-year-old state-run service is to be sold off in the face of widespread public opposition. Several national polls suggest around two-thirds of UK voters are against privatisation, with discontent strongest in the countryside.
Ministers insist that the universal, six-day service to every letterbox in the country is protected until at least 2021.
Any change before then requires a resolution in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. But trade unions fear that, post-privatisation, shareholders will push for the requirement to be watered down.
Last month the CWU union said communities such as Shetland would be “the ones hurt hardest” by privatisation of one of the UK’s last remaining public utilities.
CWU Grampian and Shetland representative Alan Robertson said: “The privateers are not interested in the workforce. They’d come in and cherry-pick. They don’t want to go to Shetland or the Outer Hebrides six days a week.”
Mr Carmichael acknowledged he had received “a fair amount” of correspondence from Shetlanders worried about the future of the rural post.
But he believes a lot of that emanates from people reading “scare stories”, suggesting some political interests “invent difficulties for the sake of causing anxiety”.
He said he had received a “fair amount” of constituents’ letters, “because people pick up papers and see this will be the end of this, that and the other,” Mr Carmichael told The Shetland Times.
“I’ve been engaged in this issue for the last 12 years and if I thought that the model that’s being provided was one that was going to be a threat to the service, there’s no way I’d support it.
“The important thing is that you preserve the universal service, which is the daily delivery to every door in the country, and the safeguards that have been put into the last postal services act do exactly that.
“I’m more concerned about the quality of the service that is provided rather than who owns it or is provider of the service.”
Mr Carmichael said he understood the appeal of finding “some other way” to modernise Royal Mail within public ownership.
But he said an “enormous” pension fund deficit and the need for Royal Mail to compete for contracts against big Dutch and German postal companies made privatisation unavoidable.
“What doesn’t seem to be understood, deliberately or otherwise, is that just leaving things as they are brings enormous risks both to the pensions of postal workers and to the universal service as well,” he said.
“If you’re going to be serious about it, given that you’ve opened up your market completely, which was something I opposed quite vigorously, then I think this just becomes inevitable.”