I asked the Minister what was his vision for the future of postal services, given the reduction in letters and stagnation of parcel delivery.
— Chi Onwurah ? (@ChiOnwurah) January 12, 2023
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) for securing this incredibly vital debate. He brings a wealth of expertise of the issue, having worked for both Royal Mail and the CWU.
After almost 500 years as a public institution, Royal Mail today connects more than 32 million addresses across the United Kingdom and is the UK’s sole designated universal service provider. Its 160,000 staff are essential workers. Whether they were delivering tens of millions of test and trace kits or being a point of contact for those isolating during the pandemic, we in the Opposition do not forget their incredibly vital work during that dark time, or since, and before. That is why the debate is so well attended by Opposition Members and why we have had such fantastic and passionate contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch), for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith), as well as contributions from Members from all parties.
Despite this incredibly important public service and its importance to communities and the economy, the Government are failing postal service users and communities, putting ideology above competence. In July to September last year, Royal Mail delivered 72% of first class mail the next working day and 93% of second class within three working days, both below its targets. As we have also heard, the Conservative Government have overseen sharp increases in the number of so-called temporarily closed post offices and part-time outreach services, leading to significant and growing cracks in coverage. That trend is particularly severe in rural areas. Older and disabled people, carers, and people who do not use the internet, of whom there are still many, are disproportionately impacted. The current industrial dispute has had a huge impact on both workers and service users across the country. We in the Labour party are glad that Royal Mail has returned to the negotiating table, which is what we called for, but the Government really need to do their job to support a resolution. They owe that to Royal Mail as key workers, and to the public and businesses, all of which rely on Royal Mail.
The Government’s decisions on Royal Mail risk a disaster for customers and workers, and a degradation of Royal Mail as a major contributor to the UK economy. An organisation that was once thriving has had job losses in the thousands and a reduction in service, all while giving out over £400 million in dividends and £167 million in share buy-backs. The CWU has been raising concerns about the financial mismanagement of Royal Mail for several months, so can the Minister outline what discussions he has had with Royal Mail regarding its profits and dividends during the last financial year? Can he explain why workers and service users are being asked to pay more for less of a service, at a time when the cost of living crisis is impacting so many families across our nation?
As has been highlighted, there has been a decline in letter delivery. We understand that Royal Mail is seeking to grow parcel delivery, but that strategy appears to be stagnating, so what is the strategy now? Can the Minister
say what his vision is for the future of postal services, and when he will act to ensure that Royal Mail returns to pre-pandemic levels of performance? Finally, the recent increase in the holding share by Vesa Equity, a company with links to Russia, is a matter of grave concern. Can the Minister outline the Government’s reasoning for not using the powers in the National Security and Investment Act 2021 in relation to that investment?
Only a Labour Government, supporting the partnership between management, workers and trade unions, can achieve lasting success for our postal services. In two days’ time, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) will lead a debate on the universal service obligation, but can the Minister provide assurances today that this Government are committed to the USO, as we are, and has he made an assessment of the impact of a five-day service proposal on the economy? The Labour party will work with postal service providers to deliver vital goods and services, and to provide social value.