It was inevitable that the privatisation of the Royal Mail would come up on Any Questions, with the head of the CWU on the panel. It is strange that it has become such a divisive issue, as Labour tried to do this towards the end of their period in government. They believed then that the Royal Mail needed to be able to borrow and raise money like normal companies, freed from the tighter controls that operate on public sector businesses.
The fear of private business in the Royal Mail is particularly odd, as the Post Office itself has thousands of offices or branches which are of course private sector businesses operating under a common public franchise. No-one seems to worry about this arrangement, or demand that they be nationalised. No-one suggests this means they cannot provide a good service. I have never had an email or letter complaining that the local sub Post Office has failed because it is private, and demanding the state takes it over.
Two main worries are voiced about privatisation of the Mail. The first is the private company might put up prices more. That would be difficult, given the huge increases put through from time to time by the nationalised industry. It would also be impossible without the approval of the regulator, as these prices will be controlled in future.
In 1997 when Labour took over government the second class stamp cost 20p. It costs a stunning 50p today, an increase of 150%. If it had risen in line with prices generally it would be just 31p. Not much sign of nationalisation helping the customer.
The second is the false claim that it will mean the end of the comprehensive six day delivery to anywhere in the UK for the same price. This has been written into the law, so it will remain unless some future Parliament wishes to change it. Clearly this government wants to guarantee the service and has done so. It is the nationalised industry that has removed twice a day delivery and does not always give the early morning delivery that business likes.
I am glad the employees will become shareholders. I expect motivation, quality and efficiency to improve in the private sector. It is good to know in future taxpayers will not have to pay for any losses. There have been many job losses under nationalisation.