National treasure needs to deliver

So what do you really think of our postal service? Sarah Hardy reckons it needs to be cherished - warts and all.

So what do you really think of our postal service? Sarah Hardy reckons it needs to be cherished - warts and all!

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As we learn that limits on junk mail delivery are going and that some post boxes are being emptied as early as 9am, you cannot help but wonder what's happening to the national treasure that is the Royal Mail.

Nowadays savvy consumers demand a first class service and simply take their custom elsewhere if they don't get what they want. Sure the initial concept, that a letter could be posted in Scotland one night and arrive on the south coast the following morning for a nominal fee was impressive but times, as they say, are changing.

The arrival of the fax, email and text, plus many other competitors, have put the postal service under severe threat. There's nothing like the thud of the post dropping through your letter box, especially on your birthday when you crave numerous cards, but businesses, especially small businesses, report many problems with our beleaguered service.

Indeed, the postal regulator has launched an inquiry into complaints that letters are being collected from post boxes as early as 9am.

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Residents in areas across the country, including Ipswich, have complained that collections are being made before their post was delivered, giving them no time to respond to correspondence on the same day.

Postcomm announced a three-month consultation to check details of when post was being collected and delivered before deciding whether to order any changes.

Chief executive Sarah Chambers said 9am seemed “very early” to be collecting post, adding: “There may be some parts of the country where post boxes are so remote that the only way the Royal Mail can guarantee next-day delivery is to collect post early.

“But we need to find out what customers want. We are beginning to hear some concerns about changes to delivery and collection times.

“People are telling us that in some areas post is being collected as early as 9am, whereas deliveries come later than that. We need to find out what customers really want from their post and then we will decide if anything needs to be done about it.”

Another survey by Postwatch, the watchdog for the postal services, reveals that one in four post boxes fails to display the correct collection time. Most did not have a tab while others displayed an incorrect tab - all making life more annoying for customers.

Now the news that the limit on junk mail delivery is to be abolished has upset more people who fear serious environmental impacts - and increased council tax costs.

And certainly the prospect of having more flyers, restaurant menus, and taxi business cards coming into your home does sound horrendous.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that a deal struck by the Royal Mail to lift the three-items-per-week limit of unaddressed mailings will lead to an increase in unwanted deliveries.

Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Chairman of the LGA, has written to Adam Crozier, Royal Mail chief executive, expressing “grave concerns" for the council tax payer and the environment.

“I am concerned that the expansion in junk mail will lead to an increase in the amount of paper that is either thrown into landfill or has to be collected in recycling bins,” he said.

“This comes at a time when councils are trying to minimise waste, increase recycling and are striving to provide value for money to the taxpayer. Every extra tonne of rubbish that goes into landfill costs the taxpayer an extra £100, and any steps that can reduce this cost is one less burden on the hard pressed council taxpayer.

“More junk mail for services people do not want or need will only lead to an increase in the amount of unnecessary rubbish created and could place further pressures on the council taxpayer through no fault of either the council or local people.”

A Royal Mail spokesman said: "The LGA has not written to us and they are entirely wrong in thinking anything Royal Mail has done will lead to 'unlimited' amounts of unaddressed mailings being sent to people's homes. 75% of unaddressed mail is delivered by rivals - and if Royal Mail did not deliver any of this mail then it would simply be posted through people's letter boxes by other operators.”

Jeanette Thurtle, East Anglia Regional Organiser for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), commented: “Small businesses rely heavily on an efficient postal service to ensure the smooth running of their business. They need delivery and collection times to be consistent. It is unacceptable that some post boxes are emptied by 9am, which only serves to delay mail, which can be crucial. We acknowledge that Royal Mail offers good services such as Special Delivery, but these are expensive and small businesses are already disproportionately affected in terms of postal costs in comparison to larger businesses.”

Derrick Holmes, an FSB Member who runs Holme Improvements in Norfolk, said: “There are a lot of small rural businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk who need a reliable postal service. In some areas there is only one collection a day before 9am. These businesses are at a disadvantage and cannot function as efficiently as they need to.”

So it seems, as with any enormous organisation, that the Royal Mail is not perfect. This can hardly be surprising and is no doubt utterly infuriating to many.

At my home, the mail seems to turn up when it likes. As we're fairly rural, we don't seem to get a delivery every day and the timings do vary. It's usually after lunch but then it's about 7am on a Saturday. We don't really mind and there's rarely anything that we're desperate for but get me on edge as I'm expecting a new passport and my opinions might alter!