Model of a Modern Royal Mail

Roy Mayall 19 January 2011

Last week all the new walk-sequencing machines in our area broke down. This meant that only about a third of the letters arrived at our delivery office on Wednesday. So on Thursday we had two days’ post to deliver, and everyone’s mail was late.

Walk-sequencing machines sort the letters into the order that they are going to be delivered in. The old walk-sorting machines only organised the post into rounds: postal workers had to do the final sorting. Under the old system, all the post was in the delivery office by 7.15 and we were usually out on our rounds by 9.00. Under the new system, the last lorry arrives at 9.15 and sometimes we don’t get out until after 11.00. It’s quite normal for a postal worker to finish work at 3.30 these days, and for posties doing rural rounds still to be delivering letters as late as four in the afternoon. The machines also have a tendency to break down, as we’ve just discovered, so on some days no post is delivered at all. But they are central to the Royal Mail’s ‘modernisation’ programme.

There was a talk show about the Royal Mail on BBC Three Counties Radio the other day. People in Milton Keynes weren’t getting their post. Some people had been waiting for three weeks for it to arrive. ‘Obviously we have to modernise the business and that is what we are doing,’ explained Steve Smart, a local collection and delivery manager. ‘At the end of the day if we don’t modernise Royal Mail we’ll have problems down the line.’ In a nine-minute interview he used the word ‘modernise’ or ‘modernisation’ 15 times.

The Royal Mail have scrapped all the bikes in Milton Keynes and replaced them with vans. Vans are obviously much more modern than bikes. They are also more expensive. Not only do they cost several thousand pounds to buy, they cost several hundred pounds a year to tax and insure. As one postal worker said, ‘you could have bought a new bike for the cost of the insurance, which would have lasted ten years.’

Vans are also slower and less versatile than bikes. They are quicker along the road, but once on your round you have to get out and walk, pulling the post behind you on a trolley. It’s awkward. After a while it puts a strain on your back. And you can’t read the envelopes as you’re walking, which slows things down even more. Rounds that used to take three and a half hours to complete are now taking up to five. Whoever devised this method has obviously never delivered a letter in their life.

On a bike you can sometimes ride right to the front door and push the post through the letter box without getting off. You don’t get a stiff back. You never have trouble parking. Bikes cost nothing to run, give out no fumes, and will still be in use when all the vans are scrapped because petrol has become too expensive.

‘Modernising’ the Royal Mail means replacing a tried and tested method that’s been good for more than a hundred years with one that is more tiring, more polluting, slower and more expensive. Expect more chaos and delayed post as the Royal Mail’s modernisation programme is rolled out across the country.