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GCA meets Labour Party’s head of policy

Amanda Fergusson ups the campaign to safeguard Royal Mail’s USO

 

The GCA has taken the battle over Royal Mail’s threat to cut letter deliveries to the people who may have the most clout – the Labour Party which is odds on to form the next government given the current political turmoil.

The trade association’s CEO Amanda Fergusson played an active part in a high-powered meeting on Tuesday, 10 January, with Labour’s head of policy department Adam Terry MP as part of the GCA’s membership of the Independent Retailers’ Confederation (IRC).

Above: MP Adam Terry led the meeting with the GCA and IRC
Above: MP Adam Terry led the meeting with the GCA and IRC

As Amanda highlighted: “This was a significant and very worthwhile meeting, providing an opportunity to stress the importance of maintaining the six day a week delivery service from Royal Mail for the public, retailers, our industry and many others.”

Amanda led the discussion on safeguarding the Universal Service Obligation (USO) as, aware that no change is likely to be made until after the next General Election, she recognised the merit of forging links with the Labour party as well as the current government.

Following correspondence with Jonathan Reynolds MP, Labour’s shadow business and industrial strategy secretary, about the request by Royal Mail – under the umbrella company International Distributions Services – to cut Saturday letter deliveries from the USO, Amanda told Adam: “We understand that Labour share our concerns. We would like to see protecting the USO forming part of Labour’s policy.

“Ofcom research shows that customers really value six days a week delivery, and many small businesses rely on Royal Mail deliveries. Clearly, for the greeting card industry, it is also vital for consumers – there are 180,000 birthdays a day in the UK alone.”

And Amanda pointed out that in previous discussions in 2022 Royal Mail had given the impression new services would be in place before any changes would be considered to the USO, yet it suddenly backtracked and, with no warning, requested release from the existing obligation to deliver letters every day except Sunday.

The meeting revealed that, just six days after the GCA wrote to Jonathan, he himself sent a letter to business secretary Grant Shapps MP, setting out his concerns over Royal Mail’s “alarming” half-year results to 25 September, 2022, saying the postal company should explain why it chose to give out £400million in dividends and £167m in share buybacks “despite the known post-pandemic forecasts which indicated difficult times ahead for the business”, and asking why it has ended the cross-subsidy arrangements from its GLS arm “profits which fund the USO”.

Above: Jonathan Reynolds wrote to the business secretary following the GCA’s letter
Above: Jonathan Reynolds wrote to the business secretary following the GCA’s letter

However, showing support for the industrial action which crippled the Christmas post, he said Royal Mail workers “acknowledge the need for modernisation in order that the business remains sustainable”, adding “they are keen to explore ways in which their roles can be expanded to better serve the community”.

Jonathan added: “The ability to send and receive letters and parcels from any part of the UK for the same price is a public service we should rightly cherish, and one many people and small businesses rely on.”

At this week’s meeting the IRC also raised issues including retail regulation, reforming landlord-leasehold/tenant relations, energy costs and promoting sustainability, and the long-discussed business rates reform.

Following on from the pre-Christmas postal strikes, Royal Mail yesterday, Wednesday, 11 January, suffered another blow when a cyber incident was blamed for severe disruption to overseas dispatch of letters and parcels.

Above: Royal Mail and the NCSC are working together to resolve this week’s cyber incident
Above: Royal Mail and the NCSC are working together to resolve this week’s cyber incident

The National Cyber Security Centre said “We are aware of an incident affecting Royal Mail Group Ltd and are working with the company, alongside the National Crime Agency, to fully understand the impact.”

A Royal Mail statement read: “We have asked customers temporarily to stop submitting any export items into the network while we work hard to resolve the issue.

“Some customers may experience delay or disruption to items already shipped for export. Our import operations continue to perform a full service with some minor delays.

“Our teams are working around the clock to resolve this disruption and we will update customers as soon as we have more information.

“We immediately launched an investigation into the incident and we are working with external experts. We have reported the incident to our regulators and the relevant security authorities.”

Top: MP Jonathan Reynolds has taken the GCA’s concerns on board

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