In this week’s issue of the London Review of Books, there’s a timely exposé of the inner workings of the postal service by “Roy Mayall.” Mayall, who has worked as a postman for the last five years, pulls no punches in the article, accusing his employer of (somewhat counterintuitively) downplaying the real amount of mail. Apparently, this false claim that “figures are down” is being used to justify postal workers being given longer working hours and extra duties, for example.
My (strictly anecdotal) experience backs Mayall up—queues at my nearest post office often stretch out of the door—although I suppose Royal Mail could argue that this is because they’ve closed other local branches. And these queues could also been down to the fact that staff at the counter are always trying to sell me something—savings accounts, credit cards and so on. Once they even tried to get me to switch telephone provider while I was in the queue, which was particularly irritating.
Mayall’s account of the Royal Mail’s management policies helps to fill in the background to these experiences and the recent postal strikes, although I could also have used more explanation of how this works:
“[companies] bid for the profitable bulk mail and city-to-city trade of large corporations, undercutting the Royal Mail, and then have the Royal Mail deliver it for them. TNT has the very lucrative BT contract, for instance. TNT picks up all BT’s mail from its main offices, sorts it into individual walks according to information supplied by the Royal Mail, scoots it to the mail centres in bulk, where it is then sorted again and handed over to us to deliver. Royal Mail does the work. TNT takes the profit.”
How exactly do TNT both undercut the Royal Mail and then use them to deliver the post?
Mayall does whine—at one point, he complains about having to deliver “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.” Well, excuse us for shopping online. But the article (online here) is well worth reading, as Mayall also puts his finger on the real problem:
There is a tension between the Royal Mail as a profit-making business and the Royal Mail as a public service. For most of the Royal Mail management—who rarely, if ever, come across the public—it is the first. To the delivery officer—to me, and people like me, the postmen who bring the mail to your door—it is more than likely the second.
I should ask my postman what he thinks—although, since he always delivers during the day when I’m at work, we’ve never met.