MP insists isles’ postal service is safe as union rails against ‘despicable’ Royal Mail sell-off

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has insisted Shetland will not be left with a threadbare postal service following privatisation this autumn.

The coalition government confirmed this week that privatisation will go ahead – a move Mr Carmichael is backing. He is adamant that islanders will continue receiving mail six days a week at the same price as the rest of the country, despite trade union fears to the contrary.

The MP pointed to “meaningful” protections within the legislation ensuring the regulator has the power to charge companies a levy to subsidise the universal postal service. Those could come into play if firms engage in excessive cherry-picking of lucrative deliveries in cities and big towns.

But the CWU union has warned the service could face a dire future under private ownership. Its Grampian and Shetland representative Alan Robertson described privatisation as a “despicable” demonstration of disregard for rural communities. He added the end result would be “bad for our members and bad for the public”.

Government ministers maintain that they want to ensure all of Britain’s 28 million households get an equal service. But unions suggested Steve Davies from the institute of economic affairs (IEA), a right-wing think tank, let the cat out of the bag this week.

Mr Davis told the BBC on Wednesday that he saw nothing wrong with those in remote parts paying a higher premium for their post: “It’s part of the price you’d pay for living in beautiful rural surroundings,” he said.

Crediting Mr Davis for his honesty, Mr Robertson said it seemed inevitable that communities like Shetland would be “the ones hurt hardest by privatisation”. He believes private investors will soon start lobbying for a watering down of the universal service obligation.

“Let’s face facts: the privateers are not interested in the workforce,” he said. “They just care about profit. They’d come in and cherry-pick. They don’t want to go to Shetland or the Outer Hebrides six days a week. This disregard for vast rural constituencies is despicable.”

The CWU points to the privatisation experience elsewhere. In the Netherlands, it has resulted in job cuts, a “demoralised” workforce and four different postal companies competing to provide the same service, the union said.

On the back of a booming market in parcel deliveries, the Royal Mail’s annual profits doubled to £400 million last year. Mr Robertson said unions accepted the need to adapt the service to fit the internet age, but called on the government to examine alternatives to privatisation.

Jobs have already been shed to improve the service’s profitability, and the sell-off would “hurt us even more”. He said: “We are modernising, and we’ve been doing that for years.”

But Mr Carmichael said he saw no way of Royal Mail attracting the necessary investment while remaining part of the public sector. It requires “the sort of investment where they need to have access to outside funding”, he suggested.

As part of the deal, its pension fund – which faces a substantial deficit – will be taken onto the public books to protect postal workers’ retirement income, he said.

“I think privatisation is probably the only way, now, to guarantee that we can maintain a Royal Mail,” Mr Carmichael claimed.
Unions dispute that assertion. They point out that Network Rail, effectively a public body, has been able to borrow sums far greater than Royal Mail needs on private markets.

CWU members also fear their workplace rights will be diluted. A recent consultative ballot saw 96 per cent back the union’s anti-privatisation campaign on a turnout of 74.2 per cent.

Mr Robertson said that “speaks volumes for our members, who feel they can’t be bought off with a couple of thousand pounds of shares” which would put their rights in jeopardy.

A recent pay offer had been “in the right ballpark”, but was unacceptable due to there being “so much stuff attached”. Terms and conditions would only be protected for three years, after which the CWU believe salaries and working conditions will be under threat.

Mr Carmichael said he did not recognise the picture painted by the CWU. He said it seemed as if the union was engaging in “a sort of exaggeration designed to support a view that they’ve already reached”.

“The CWU will still be in a very powerful position as a dominant trade union in a dominant public service – that’s not going to change,” he said. “This also comes with a share ownership scheme for employees of Royal Mail itself, so they continue to have a pretty direct stake in that.”



Add Your Comment
  • David Thomson

    • July 11th, 2013 12:20

    Yes lets trust Alistair Carmichael, and his coalition buddies, after all they have always kept their promises made before the election, just ask the students!
    The Royal Mail should remain in public ownership, this is the only way we will recieve the same level of service that we do now, ask anyone about courier charges to the Higlands & Islands. Stop them selling an excellent service, act now and back the CWU campaign!

  • Harry Dent

    • July 11th, 2013 12:22

    Disingenuous claptrap from Mr Carmichael.

    It’s high time the Liberal Party merged with the Tories and stopped pretending to be something different.

  • Barbara johnson

    • July 11th, 2013 19:04

    Our local MP -,More a London MP,It’s about time he listened to his voters,not his Tory buddies

  • David Spence

    • July 11th, 2013 20:11

    Totally agree David, that we should do everything in our power to stop and prevent the privatization of the Post Office. Once again the Liberal Democrats have proved once again they cannot be trusted, especially if you are in partnership with the most corrupt, self-centered, think of number one Conservatives. No doubt there will be quite a lot of Tories who will be share holders of the private companies which have been selected to takeover what the Post Office was doing………but being capitalist, they will lie, deceive and cheat their way in portraying themselves to the public with the usual garbage of ‘ The services will be improved under the private sector ‘. What utter, utter rubbish, the ‘ private sector ‘ like all selfish capitalist’s (getting this Ali? lol) only care about share holders, greed and profit.

    I can put a bet on that the services and products the Post Office was providing will go up by over 100%, 200%, 300% or more within the first year of the greedy capitalists taking control of our postal services……..especially if you take into account the well over charge prices ‘ private couriers ‘ put upon us because we reside on an island. As said ‘ The only good Tory is a ******** Tory. ‘

  • David Spence

    • July 11th, 2013 22:05

    No doubt, after the Post Office has been thrown to the vultures of the private sector the Taxes we will pay still remain the same………all the more money for the selfish political representatives to get their greedy little hands on via ‘ expenses claims ‘ ‘ second houses ‘ ‘ the odd holiday ‘ and ‘ the odd designer built house for the dog or duck ‘…………as said ‘ In a capitalist based society ‘ look after number 1 at all costs and forms of selfish based corruption ‘ is the philosophy ‘.

    Just heard on the news the PRIVATE Security Company G4S and SERCO vastly over charging the Tax Payer for the miserable services they provide.

    Just another example of what to expect from the selfish based capitalist companies taking over state run services, where they put greed, profit and shareholders ahead of anything else.

  • Vivienne Rendall

    • July 12th, 2013 12:06

    You should all acquire a DVD put together by Ken Loach, called ‘The Spirit of ’45’ then you should watch it, and weep.

  • David Spence

    • July 12th, 2013 13:09

    Vivienne, as you will know, there are those who think that greed, profit and selfishness are the bedrock of our society today. Society, based wholly on the monetary system where it is the banking system(s) which determine, to a large degree, the structure of how society is shaped.

    The recent so-called banking crisis of 2008 very much proves that our society here in the west is at the mercy of a system which puts itself first and dominates to the extent that even when it does wrong (becomes greedy and puts profit first) we the people are still having to pay for their errors by bailing them out because we have been ‘ brainwashed ‘, ‘ spoon fed ‘ the tripe that society will collapse if we do not have a strong banking system.

    The largest perpetrators of misery since 1900 to 2000 have been the banks and their campaign of deliberately instigating, starting, taking part in, coercing wars, civil wars, revolution, assassinations all in the name of, allegedly, spreading democracy but in real terms making vast profits by by giving the fighting factions huge loans to buy weapons or huge loans to Governments to rebuild their country after the banks have profited from initially instigating the conflict in the first place. A win, win situation for them……..How true it is that ‘ The root of all evils is money ‘, no more aptly demonstrated by our banking system and those people who support them or support a system where greed, profit, share holders and selfishness prevails… long as ‘ number 1 is ok ‘

  • John Jamieson

    • July 13th, 2013 12:29

    One private company inrends to employ 20,000 postal workers over the next five years.
    Can the Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael say how many will be employed in his constituency ?

  • Robert Sim

    • July 13th, 2013 23:25

    David Spence, I am opposed to the privatisation of Royal Mail; and do think that the Thatcher government encouraged a culture of greed within the financial sector which is only now being addressed (however adequately is another question). However I also think that your sweeping statements regarding “capitalism” need challenged – again. While multi-nationals might deserve criticism, there are many small businesses out there which provide important employment throughout the UK. And, yes, they do need to make a profit. Otherwise they would go under. And people would lose their jobs as a result.

  • David Spence

    • July 14th, 2013 2:04

    John, as you may know, private companies like to run their business with the minimum of cost and, more than likely, the minimum of staff and personnel.

    Although this company says it intends to employ 20,000 people I very much doubt that they will come even close to this figure in proportion to the number of staff they will make redundant, force early retirement or voluntary redundancy. Inclusive to this, the number of rural post office’s they will close as they are not ‘ economically viable ‘ and they bite into the profits.

    I can almost bet that within 6 months or a year the cost of a first and second (if second class is not economically feasible thus forcing people to use the most expensive option, aka first class) class will double, triple if not more. I bet within 1 year of the Post Office being privatized posting a ordinary letter will cost between £1.50 – £2.00 if not more for us islanders since we are not part of the mainland UK.

    I was going to buy some computer software (1 cd) from a company in Birmingham and they were going to charge me £26.00 to send it via courier. The software itself was £14.99. If you put the cd into a padded A5 envelope and a 1st class stamp, it would have, at the time, cost less than £2.00 to post and not £26.00 the company was wanting for a private courier to deliver. Needless to say, I did not go ahead with the purchase of the software.

    Shetland, like the Orkney’s, Hebrides and other islands will most certainly pay very dearly for ‘ private, greedy, profiteering B******** ‘ to deliver our letters, parcels or any other means of posting.

  • David Spence

    • July 14th, 2013 14:59

    Robert, regarding my sweeping statements regarding Capitalism, I think, are in many ways correct………whether it be a small business or a large business or a multinational business their mean agenda is to maximize their profits at any cost.

    Yes, there may be the odd small business which runs with a greater sense of morality and doing good within the community, but this is very much a rare principle in today’s society where greed, profiteering and ‘ look after number 1 ‘ prevails overall as a consequence of decades of Conservatism (New Labour were nothing more than Tories in disguise) spoon feeding the populous with ‘ get rich quick mentality ‘.

    No doubt Robert you will (another trait of society where people become more aggressive as result of a system which perpetually emphasizes competitive principles in the market place but generally transgresses itself onto the psychology of the individual) you will lambaste what I have said, but if you care to look at the bigger picture and the basic structures of what makes up our society, I am sure you would be against ‘ market forces ‘ taking over this structure which is, for the most part, under ‘ state control ‘.

    You only have to look across the pond to see that such a system causes greater division, violence (why is it the majority of movies coming out of the USA portray violence?) amongst people (so-called gun laws under their constitution…..again, a trait of violence being promoted as lawfully right…….year 2010/11 Europe : 382 people killed by gun crime……year 2010/11 USA : 11,698 killed by gun crime).

    So Robert, if you want to promote such a society where greed, profit, look after number one, greater violence and exploitation prevails……..count me out.

  • Robert Sim

    • July 14th, 2013 17:38

    David, capitalism isn’t the cause of violence in the USA. Capitalism is an economic system. The gun laws in the USA etc are more to do with their general social history (eg the Constitution).

    Anyway, have a look at this youtube video: We live in an imperfect world; but it has moved on since the nineteenth century and Marx’s analysis..

  • David Spence

    • July 15th, 2013 0:59

    Robert, I take your point to a degree, but if you look at the principles and psychology of how business works and the drive to maximize profits and make the ‘ quick buck ‘, there is very little difference between business laws and the ‘ jungle law ‘…….one is survival of the richest, the other being the survival of the strongest (war, conflict, foreign policy, supporting wars, conflict etc etc)…….both using principles which induce the more negative aspects of human nature, and it is this which I question in this modern age where, one would hope, the principles of decency, morality and proper justice prevails………may be I am living in cloud cuckoo land…….but there is great hypocrisy in our system if we preach morals and goodness but defy them through our political and social responsibilities because financial and commercial necessities are paramount in which to sustain the society we want at any cost or price, even if it means war, conflict, exploitation, deceiving and all the other negative aspects of human nature coming to the forefront.

  • T Goodlad

    • July 15th, 2013 18:54

    Well I hope Alistair Carmichael has another job because it is very unlikely that he will still be in politics after the next general election.

    Shame on the LIBERALS that have had “massive” support throughout Shetland/ Orkney for many years to support the privatisation of the Post Office.

    There is no doubt in my mind that cost of delivery, speed ,efficiency & security will all suffer as a result.

    I personally will never forgive the Lib/Dems for this !.

  • John Duncan

    • July 24th, 2013 17:38

    An awful lot of linking to the Tories but be aware, the privatisation of the PO is a long standing Liberal policy. The universal service will not be able to continue. To ensure this would put the new company at a competitive disadvantage with their competitors who have cherry picked the rich pickings of city deliveries. Plus any parcels not delivered will require picking up in Lerwick or be sent back if people are not at home at delivery attempts. Usually during work hours.


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