Politicians from various parties have condemned news the government plans to sell off its last remaining slice of Royal Mail, announced this week by Chancellor George Osborne as part of a package of austerity measures.
The Tories have said they want to privatise the 30 per cent stake it still has in Royal Mail prompting widespread concerns the universal service obligation – which protects postal services to rural places such as the isles – could be at risk.
First to criticise was isles MP Alistair Carmichael. He said he would “urge” ministers to ensure a review of the powers of the regulator is carried out in order to save the universal service.
“The government owning 30 per cent of Royal Mail was an important part of the package put in place by the coalition government to protect the universal service obligation. If that element is to be removed then the whole package will require to be looked at again.
“It remains the case that the most important protection for the universal service is the power of the regulator OFCOM to charge a levy on private operators who do not deliver to every door in the country as Royal Mail does.
“Given the concerns that were expressed by the Royal Mail chief executive last year I shall be urging ministers to ensure that, before the sale goes ahead, there is a comprehensive review of the powers of the regulator to protect the universal service.”
During the previous government Mr Carmichael voiced support for the partial sell-off of Royal Mail, arguing that as a wholly publicly-owned business it was denied the investment it needed to compete in the postal market.
Independence supporter, Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart, said rural parts would be badly hit by a full sell off.
“The majority of my constituents live in rural areas and rely on the one-price-goes-anywhere, six day a week service provided by Royal Mail.
“The privatisation that has already taken place has led to substantial price increases across the board and I am very concerned about the impact this will have, especially on my constituents in the Western and Northern Isles, who are already charged astronomical prices by private companies who deliver to these areas.
“Our public services should be just that, and it is wrong that the government is delivering them into private hands.”
She criticised the Tory government for introducing the move, insisting it was being introduced as part of “an out of control slash, burn and privatise” Westminster government.
“I am appalled, but given the nature of this Tory government not surprised, that the Royal Mail which has served us through the years so well, is to be fully privatised. The sell off will benefit a tiny number of people who will grow rich as a result. All of our public services are under attack. This is an extremely serious situation, caused by an out of control slash, burn and privatise Westminster government. This will threaten the service that so many rely on. Of course I am concerned about residents in my own constituency. But this is going to affect every one of the 29 million households who use the service.”
The Communication Workers Union who represent Royal Mail Workers have vowed to oppose this final part of the sell off. Ms Urquhart offered her support.
“We know that privatisation leads to poorer conditions for staff,” she said.
“This has been shown time and again, and I stand with the CWU in their campaign to protect the Royal Mail as a public service by opposing the selling of the last government shares in Royal Mail.”
She added: “There is no appetite for Tory economic policy in Scotland. It is also worth remembering that the Scottish governments White Paper on independence contained a plan to re-nationalise Royal Mail, and to make sure that both staff and service users received the best possible conditions, service and value for money.
“Scotland should lead the way in opposing this agenda. We simply must public service for the many, rather than private profit for a tiny minority.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant argued against privatisation in 2013 when plans were first put forward by the coalition government.
“It was clear when I first campaigned against privatisation in 2013 that the public were against the sale and particularly people living and doing business in the Highlands and Islands where privatisation puts the our mail service at most risk.
“The government were guilty of ripping off the tax payer in 2013 by grossly undervaluing the worth of this historic institution, part of the fabric of our nation; shares sold for £1.7bn at privatisation and are now worth £2.7bn.
“The Highlands and Islands are particularly vulnerable to the knock on effects of privatisation. I will fight tooth and nail to oppose the sale of the remaining 30 per cent of the Royal Mail that is in public hands to help protect and secure deliveries to rural areas, preserve the six days a week universal service and ensure the Post Office network remains viable.”