Letter from Edinburgh
Imagine the scene. The leader staggers off stage, applause(ish) buzzing in his ears, relieved to have the speech done. Television cameras and radio booms fight with press photographers to catch a word and a snap, and the first thing he hears from his staff is not words of encouragement and cheerfulness but, Berbatov has a hat-trick and Liver-pool are losing at Old Trafford!
So it was last Sunday. The party conference season opened in Liverpool – a city close to my footballing heart. The conference was the busiest I have ever seen with, it is said, 6,000 people attending.
In other years, security was of a basic nature. This year Highlands and Islands Airports would have been proud of the rigmarole that delegates had to pass through on the way in. Cabinet ministers were more common than the starlings on the Liver building and I met someone who had played at the famous Cavern Club where it all started for the Beatles many decades ago.
The future of the Post Office and Royal Mail was one of the main issues debated. Royal Mail is in terrible financial trouble with a £10 billion pension deficit. So to survive and then grow it needs money.
Governments have ducked this for years and we’ve seen post offices closing and people laid off. That’s as true for Shetland as anywhere. So doing nothing isn’t an option.
The UK government now plans to bring private money into Royal Mail, give its staff shares in the business, and therefore in their future, and sort the pension deficit. Making sure staff have a pension, with some certainty of what it’s likely to be, is something that must happen.
Liberals have for decades argued for employees to have shares in the business that they work in. It’s been part of Germany’s industrial and manufacturing success for 60 years. So surely now, with an organisation so important to the country, giving staff a stake in their future is right.
On the delivery side, a letter will be delivered for the same price in Shetland or Solihull. That’s because the legislation which will be introduced later in the autumn will explicitly state that, and so it should. And the post office closure pro-gramme will be stopped.
In addition remote post offices that currently receive a special pay-ment in recognition of the social service they provide will continue to get them. Sorting the staff pensions, guaranteeing delivery of your mail across the country no matter where you live, and stopping more closures is a pretty important step forward. All this so that the Royal Mail has some chance of competing with private delivery companies, emails and other forms of technology.
A last word on what was once known as the second city of the Empire, as a Scouse taxi driver told me. I stayed in the Aldelphi. Don’t! It’s the noisiest hotel I’ve ever been in. Cheerfully noisy – but noisy. If you need a night’s sleep before speaking to 6,000 people, it’s not a good place to be.
Tavish Scott MSP