I HAVE just walked back from one of our local post boxes after sending off some important information that the NHS had requested.
It’s in a pre-paid, first-class and tracked envelope, so all being well it should reach its destination in Surrey tomorrow.
I could have used any of three post boxes within walking distance of where I live, one of which is at a post office.
We are very lucky to be well served by Royal Mail, even though we live in a fairly rural location.
Not only do we have plenty of post boxes nearby, we also have an excellent postman.
I know him by name and we always have a brief chat if I am around when he is delivering to us. He is the best of Royal Mail, the epitome of a first class service.
But, I wonder how much longer we will enjoy this service?
There are rumblings of change afoot. Like so many of our traditional services, Royal Mail is struggling to meet its obligations as customer habits change.
I have previously written in this column about the withdrawal of banks from so many towns here in Devon and Cornwall. My nearest town, Saltash, is losing its last remaining bank in a few months’ time.
Now it seems Royal Mail needs to cut back. The regulator, Ofcom, is calling for a national debate on whether we need postal deliveries six days a week.
It could go down to five or even three. There may also be changes to the first and second-class service. I am not sure there’s much advantage to using first class these days anyway.
It’s not really surprising there’s talk of a rethink. Fewer letters are being sent because we can exchange information in an instant via email and other digital technology.
It’s faster than the post and in many cases more reliable. Ofcom fined Royal Mail last year for missing its delivery targets.
The case for change seems obvious, but as soon as the idea was announced there was uproar.
Even the Prime Minister, no doubt eyeing a popular cause in an election year, suggested he wouldn’t support scrapping six day a week deliveries.
He knows this stance will chime with many voters. We may not use Royal Mail as much as we once did, but most of us like to know it’s there when we do need it.
The trouble is you can’t run a successful business on affection and nostalgia, particularly a business that is legally required to be universal.
Personally, I can’t see the problem in cutting back deliveries to five or even three days a week.
I don’t receive post every day as it is, so I can’t miss something I don’t have. And as much as I enjoy having a brief chat with our postman when he does come to the door, I also dread what he might be delivering.
Apart from a monthly subscription to a gardening magazine, I can’t think of anything else I look forward to receiving in the post.
I am too old to get that many birthday cards, and most of the family members who did diligently send them have passed away.
Ditto Christmas cards, which seem to be increasingly falling out of fashion.
Otherwise my meagre post consists of bills, scary letters from overbearing government departments or advertising material that always goes straight into the recycling.
If cutting back deliveries to five or even three days a week means we keep a universal service and it’s more reliable, it might be worth considering.
But I know it won’t be popular with everyone. Meddle with Royal Mail at your peril.
I was hosting the BBC Radio Devon phone-in programme around the time the Royal Mail Group briefly changed its name to ‘Consignia’. Not to put too fine a point on it, there was hell up!
“Consignia’ was soon consigned to the bin.
That was more than 20 years ago and things have changed dramatically in that time, so a massive overhaul of Royal Mail’s operation is probably long overdue.
When Ofcom recently announced its call for a debate about cutting deliveries, I heard an interview on the radio with the boss of the union that represents postal workers.
He was not opposed to change, but one thing he said really struck a chord with me. He pointed out that Royal Mail is in a unique and privileged position.
He went on to say it has a vast network of people and vehicles delivering to every address in the country and that there must be new ways to exploit that epic reach.
It is an extraordinary organisation. Can you imagine trying to set up something of that scale from scratch today?
During my time on the radio and television I have been lucky enough to see Royal Mail from the inside.
I did a live broadcast from Truro sorting office back in the 1990s as staff prepared for Christmas week.
The logistics involved were staggering to ensure that post went to the correct address.
Fifteen years later, I presented a Radio Devon programme from the sorting office in Plymouth. Technology had moved on enormously.
I can remember being amazed at the speed letters were whizzing through a machine that was reading postcodes.
Royal Mail has always been evolving, so perhaps it’s time for another change involving fewer delivery days but a more sustainable and reliable service.
It’ll be very interesting to see how this debate plays out; I hope Ofcom will keep us posted!
In the meantime, thanks to all the posties who are out in all weathers driving, cycling or walking to every house no matter how remote, even if it is just to drop off a final reminder about the flaming electricity bill!
Bye for now!