Is the government misdirecting the public over Royal Mail?

7 October 2009

Image by PJ Venda on Flickr. Some rights reserved. As newspapers sober up to a future without want or need for their dead trees, Royal Mail continues to sound alarm bells about the death of the letter. Peter Mandelson has been calling for the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, justifying the stance by claiming the system is outdated and delivery numbers continue to drop due to competition from emails and texts. The government is keen to bandy about the claim that the amount of mail being delivered has dropped by 10 per cent.

That's not quite the case however, according to one postman. He recently posted anonymously on LRB to talk through why the figures are anything but down, but why you're still reading headlines to the contrary. Here's a sample from his post on why those standing on your doorstep every morning don't believe the government's death knell for Royal Mail:

Mail is delivered to the offices in grey boxes. These are a standard size, big enough to carry a few hundred letters. The mail is sorted from these boxes, put into pigeon-holes representing the separate walks. This is what is called internal sorting and it is the job of the full-timers, who come into work early to do it. In the past, the volume of mail was estimated by weighing the boxes. These days it is done by averages. There is an estimate for the number of letters that each box contains, decided on by national agreement between the management and the union. That number is 208. This is how the volume of mail passing through each office is worked out: 208 letters per box times the number of boxes. However, within the last year Royal Mail has arbitrarily, and without consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters in each box. It was 208: now they say it is 150. This arbitrary reduction more than accounts for the 10 per cent reduction that the Royal Mail claims is happening nationwide.

Doubting the accuracy of these numbers, the union ordered a random manual count to be undertaken over a two-week period in a number of offices across the region. Our office was one of them. On average, those boxes which the Royal Mail claims contain only 150 letters, actually carry 267 items of mail. This, then, explains how the Royal Mail can say that the figures are down, although every postman knows that volume is up. The figures are down all right, but only because they have been manipulated.

"Figures are down," we chortle mirthlessly, as we load the third batch of door-to-door catalogues onto our rounds, adding yet more weight to our bags, and more minutes of unpaid overtime to our clock. We get paid 1.67 pence per item of unaddressed mail, an amount that hasn’t changed in ten years. It is paid separately from our wages, and we can’t claim overtime if we run past our normal hours because of these items. We also can’t refuse to deliver them. This junk mail is one of the Royal Mail’s most profitable sidelines and my personal contribution to global warming: straight through the letterbox and into the bin.

People don’t send so many letters any more, it’s true. But, then again, the average person never did send all that many letters. They sent Christmas cards and birthday cards and postcards. They still do. And bills and bank statements and official letters from the council or the Inland Revenue still arrive by post; plus there’s all the new traffic generated by the internet: books and CDs from Amazon, packages from eBay, DVDs and games from LoveFilm, clothes and gifts and other items purchased at any one of the countless online stores which clutter the internet, bought at any time of the day or night, on a whim, with a credit card.

You can't help but read the full post and detect a whiff of bullshit-baffles-brains on behalf of the government. Has the internet killed the letter, or simply provided a route of communication for those too lazy to ever write one? And if online retail is harming the high street, it can't simultaneously be damaging companies like Royal Mail, can it?

[London Review of Books]


  • NellieIrrelevant
    Is the government misdirects the public? Does catz eat cheez?
  • Jeffrey A.
    Is government the grammar of the kings? For great justice...
  • Paul S.
    I believe cats do eat cheese, yes. Mine does, certainly. That's what you wanted to know, right?
  • cookie
    Bitterwallet fail English? That's unpossible!
  • Paul S.
    One year on - Bitterwallet still makes gaffes from time to time, and the readers would still prefer to comment on them rather than the article in question. Balance is maintained in the universe and all is well.
  • Joff
    I find it disgusting that I need to use a computermabob to write on this forum. Is there not a BitterWallet postal address to which I can address a lavender-scented envelope?
  • Paul S.
    Yes there is Joff! However you must pay Bitterwallet Mail for registered delivery, and this may cost several thousands of pounds. Ultimately a Royal Mail postie will still deliver it, but that's progress, eh?
  • donttouchthehair
    The Royal Mail is crap; every time I order something that is slightly larger than the letterbox or slightly heavier than a postcard the postman leaves a "Sorry you were out" card and expects me to go to the central PO in Sheffield. Except, i'm in all day and I know the bloody doorbell works. And when I've gone to pick stuff up I've been given post that the postman hasn't even attempted to post that day - and received a "sorry you were out" note later on in the day pertaining to the parcel I've already picked up. He also rips off the 'needs to be signed for' stickers on smaller items so that he can just post it. Which obviously pleases the people that have paid a premium for the service. Bastard. Rant over.
  • diGriz
    Thanks to online shopping I get more mail than ever these days. My postie hates me.
  • Patrick
    As usual, poor postman complaining. They want to realise that they are lucky to have a job - the regular striking is ridiculous. I'm sure may of 3M unemployed would love the opportunity to work and have a nice, regular income. As for the 2 week trial - Does the postie say when this was? As everybody know's, mail is seasonal. Was it Easter? Summer 6 week holidays? Christmas? 2 weeks is a nonsense trial, quite frankly.
  • postman p.
    I've been bitchin about this for years in Viz mag, ditching the post back in the postboxes and the dustbins around the back of asda :oops: I get paid whether I dump em or deliver (ssshh no one knows), Ohhh and those nice DVD's and birthday cards with money in your stupid relatives post are my TIPS..................HA HA :) eat my sack
  • The B.
    "books and CDs from Amazon" What a load of shit, the RM lost that contract (their biggest contract btw) years ago.
  • Joff
    Paul, I am still interested - I believe that as a premium service, BitterWallet Mail is worth paying for. I'm confident that you accept Postal Orders?
  • NellieIrrelevant
    The funny thing about your first headline was the fact that it gave away your original intentions. It looks very much lie you had wanted to say 'Government misdirects the public' but then decided to water it down to 'is the government misdirecting the public?' which is the sort of cop-out the Daily Mail uses: 'Is this man a secret lesbian? Is Channel Four run by gay communist axe murderers?' etc. What, were you afraid of getting sued for libel by "the Government"?' Uncle Sigmund suspects you felt ambivalent about watering it down and put up the garbled version accidentally on purpose. You want a comment on the actual story? It's hardly news is it? Cackhanded managers screw up a working system - cancelling morning deliveries to 'improve the service' and blame the pissed-off staff for the ensuing problems. They clearly hope if they make a big enough mess and lose the taxpayer enough money the government will privatize the whole shebang and the mismanagers will be in pole position to make shitloads of money like their counterparts did with gas and water in the Eighties. Yes the government is misdirects the public. Next!
  • me
    "“books and CDs from Amazon” What a load of shit, the RM lost that contract (their biggest contract btw) years ago." Im sorry then, but why on earth does my RM postie always hand me said items from Amazon?
  • wayne
    ive been a fulltime postman for the last 12 years and i know mail hasnt dropped off like they keep saying it has. whats changed in the last few years is the way mail is counted and the way its being processed so theres no acurate numbers and all the managers do is guess each my office the length of each delivery was lengthed from 2 and half hours to 3 and half hours and they did this because they said mail had dropped we kept argueing it hadnt but they ignored our now were all booking overtime which they keep saying we shouldnt be because royal mail invested millions into this computer program called georoute but georoute was set up and run in a flawed and unhuman way to get the results they wanted they typed in we walk at around 5 mph!!! i told the manager and guy doing georoute that 5mph is a run not a walk and they said no it isnt the average human walks at 5mph but i pointed out the fact that if my delivery is 3 and half hours long id be walking around 17 miles per day and my town is only 5 miles across .. before georoute and these jokers of a management team layton and crosier got the power to run royal mail we hardly ever booked overtime,my office was clear of mail and packets everyday,everyone was happy,we finished our last letter at about 10am and most off all the public was happy in our service but in the 5 or so years theyve completely messed everything up were now all booking more overtime than we ever did,last letter has no end time now and in my town it can be upto 7pm!!,packets arent getting cleared each day because higher management wont give us extra vans to cope with the ebay demand (ebay has gone threw the roof were snowed down with it everyday and cant cope with it all ),none of us are happy and the publics angry that a once great service has been reduced to a disgrace. what layton should have done is put adverts in all papers asking if the public would rather us work later or stay as we used to be with second deliverys,i know 99 percent of people on my delivery used to prefer second deliverys because they could call up if theyd missed us and ask us to bring oout parcels again on second deliverys so they got them now people have to wait 48 hours to get a packet form left. were also angry that some people are led to believe were striking because we want higher pay this is untrue what we want is our pensions which the government and layton and crozier have invested and lost by investing in the german postoffice which went bust and they then lost most of our pension money and also since labour got into power they never matched our pension money which we pay in each week,every government has alway matched whatever we pay into our pension but becauuse the royal mail was millions in the black before they got into power they decided to take a break paying into our pensiojn and eventually they couldnt keep up with what we were paying in and now its on the verge of collapsing. some of the above comments are ignorant and what patrick said was without any knowledge at all mail isnt seasonal thats a myth yes it gets busier at xmas,easter the useal holiday but it doesnt rise any much more than a regular thursday or friday we have now the only easy day we get is tuesday which is the only day i finish on my time every other day were going over by 30 --90 mins each day. so in future get your facts right before you write comments about things you know nothing about
  • wayne
    just seen the comment about amazon lol.. thats a big load of rubbish we never lost any amazon contracts the only thing that changed was certain goods now get delivered by home delivery network and thats useally only big things that get sent on free delivery option allbooks,games,dvds,next day items get delivered by royal mail and i know because i help scan the truck of amazon stuff we get each day.
  • Paul S.
    Nellie - you're right when you say the mistake represented a change in heart when writing the headline, but it has nothing to do with my "original intention". The views of the commentator are subjective, not proof and I changed the headline to reflect that. So not bad grammar then, either - just a mistake. Wayne - cheers for taking the time to comment.
  • TheDr
    Isn't it incredible how some people can rant and rave without ever actually realising how ignorant they sound. The "two week test", it doesn't matter if it was taken the week before Christmas or a quiet Tuesday, what you are counting is the number of letters PER BOX, the average mail (which is supposedly down) is based on the number of boxes muliplied by the mail that is meant to be inside. So on a quiet day you will STILL get 250+ items per box, but LESS boxes. Basic math :-)
  • Bullet
    @Patrick, As usual typical no brain answer, it's easy for you to say that they should be in a job, what else mate, should they also be gratefull that they get paid for that job, should the majority of full timers that have been with the company 10 or 20+ years be happy that they are being asked to work more hours for the same or less pay would you be happy that. I know I bloody well wouldnt but then you see your postie the same way you see your binman or fireman, never mind that they should be getting paycuts, just be thankfull you still have a job.
  • sunster
    I know BW is usually a good rant with most wanting to simply have a bit of a laugh with more than a bit of bias to their comments but I feel like I just want to say my two cents in the most honest way I can as I feel strongly about this. I think the Royal Mail is one of our finest institutions. It's also one that seems to get far too much stick - never complimented on the good work it does and often criticised unduly when something goes wrong. So, am I a paid up member of the union? Am I postie? Nope. Just someone who simply gets my mail delivered every day. I also send out a fair amount of mail through my business. Put simply, I think the RM does a damn fine job at a ridiculously cheap price and has some of the best ground staff of any large company. You'll always get the odd slack idiot that gets held up as the example, but in my experience it's just not true. I depend on the RM and can't believe that the amount of post has declined recently - I used to shop on the high street and now I do nearly 75% online. Others may not be as sad as me, but I bet some are! And as for the doofus who thinks that as long as you get paid for a job then you should be grateful for whatever gets handed to you - well, you're not worth the bother mate. It's about time more of us gave the RM the respect it deserves, and at the top of that list should be the government!
  • Brian
    Hi, my name is Brian. The only way to rectify this BAD karma, is to give every postman/women a pussy....possibly a black & white one.
  • Inactive
    The real problems for Royal Mail started when some plonker decided that competition should be introduced in to the system, so we ended up with Royal Mail delivering mail for the likes of etc. with a subsidised rate for the private sector of course.
  • Alex W.
    The real problem is getting postmen to deliver (unposted) junk mail/advertising with the actual post. How long is it until the poor buggers have to shove pizza leaflets through letterboxes?
  • The B.
    "certain goods now get delivered by home delivery network " Apologies, RM still hold the Amazon contract, albeit at a greatly reduced rate, I can't remember when the last time I had something delivery by them and not HDN, apparently it’s down to weight, anything over 500G (or over, I can't remember) is delivered by HDN.
  • wayne
    a few comments and reply.. (the real bob) yep royal mail still hold contracts with amazon and many others that went away have returned because they had bigger problems dealing with the competitors than royal amazon divvy up there delivers is all done by weight,size and the option you choose to have your item delivered.things changed awhile ago when royal mail decided to change pricing structures for the size of packets so things are finacally viable for us to deliver so amazon give them to couriers such as hdnl who take the stuff which are large,the buyer has chosen free delivery,and theres no fixed delivery date.but everything else and next days we still take as long as they come within royal mail delivery sizes ,a few months ago things started going stupid wed get half a car to deliver and stuff like that wouldnt fit in our little vans so thats why things changed. (alex walsh)we do deliver pizza leaflets i take pizza huts and dominos every week and we have in our area for over 2 years. (sunster) big thanks to your nice comments there much appreciated.your right we do get lots of stick especially by ignorant,misinformed idiots that see all service workers as a lesser person and some type of slave.some see us as idiots that onl;y do this job because were to stupid to get another job but thats crap!! i trained for many years as a sound engineer and got lots of qualifications but theres no money in it anymore but ive still got a mortgage to pay so what do i do go sign on?no i went out to find a job that would still give me time to do my passion to write music and i enjoy working outside and i enjoy meeting people and helping people.many postmen in my office not only do our jobs but were also a friendly face to some old people whos only human contact is the postman,milk man,window cleaner they come out i spend a minute or two chatting to them seeing if there ok in winter and if the weathers bad ill nip to the shop and get them some milk or a loaf of bread i dont expect thanks i do this because im a nice person who feels one of the things that is missing from this once great country is the sense of community. it seems everyones being brainwashed into not speaking to anyone,everyone looks like miserable robots and most only think about there own selfish needs what they should do is try and think what there life will be like in 30-40 years and see how lonley they will be and then theyll be praying for someone just to say hi to them once in awhile but no one will because everyone will remember what a ignorant person they were and will avoid them at all costs.i have them on my delivery they starre out of the window looking at everyone as if there shit on there shoes they scream at you in the street for something youve not done they report you for things youve not done and they onl;y do it because they know you cant shout back but its funny when you see them out of work in asda and they shit themselfs and hide lol. my union rep got the text this afternoon the unions won its vote to strike but the unions still adiment that as long as the management will stop bullyboy tactics,the government will step up with the back pension payments and everyone talks together there will be no our area the union still feels it wont come to any action as long as everyone sits down to chat and mandelson/crozier stops feeding the news bullshit about it being about pay.i hoping it wont come to striking to as i cant afford to lose any money but i also know if we dont make a stand we wont have any retirement money once i do retire and thats all i want.
  • sean
    Patrick, your comment about seasonal volumes has me rolling around the floor. You haven't understood the very basic principle - the boxes are the same size throughout the year! They are filled the same all year round! We don't put more letters in the same sized boxes because it's now December for example! Doyou get it now? Yes there will be more boxes during heavy mail volumes but it's not the box counting but how many letters fit into each box that is the issue here and that number is the same all year round!!!
  • Kevin
    I'm a member of Unite and I know from their mailings out etc that they are derranged mentalists in what they are trying to do and what they expect to get from employers. Yes it's not fair that things aren't good for posties and some of the things that RM are doing is rubbish but on the other hand there ARE people that would be happy for a job, never mind how crap it is. But ignoring that the biggest thing I can see is that by actually going on strike the union and the members that go on strike are pissing off the general public so much you'll have absolutely no support. Even now theres a swell of anger against you. This isn't the miners strike, it's not some great moral crusade, theres not going to be support from the public. If the strike continues or starts up again closer to Christmas there'll be hell to pay.

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