On the 23 March 2020 the cost of postage stamps goes up yet again. And it will be by a staggering amount too.
A first-class stamp for a standard letter will rise by 6p from 70p to 76p.
A second-class stamp for a standard letter will rise by 4p from 61p to 65p.
A first-class stamp for a large letter will rise by 9p from £1.06 to £1.15.
A second-class stamp for a large letter will rise by 5p from 83p to 88p.
The rise is vastly over the rate of inflation (currently 1.8%).
One wonders if Royal Mail would have put the price up even more had Ofcom not imposed a price cap? The 65p second-class stamp is the maximum possible under the current price cap.
Royal Mail said that the changes are necessary to help ensure the sustainability of the one-price-goes-anywhere Universal Service. But it says a similar thing every year and yet we don’t see any improvements in service! Perhaps, if they kept the price down, people would use the postal service more. And yet again, of course, it is the vulnerable who are the hardest hit as more of the elderly rely on snail mail rather than using email and couriers.
Stephen Agar, managing director of letters at Royal Mail, said: “We are operating in a tough market at present, under the threat of making a loss by 2021.” But why are they threatened with making a loss? Is it because they keep wasting money? I reported on the stamp price rise last year in Avoiding a right Royal Fail at the Royal Mail which talked about the poor service, lack of strategy and changes in service. Nothing much has changed since then. It appears that Royal Mail again needs to put up prices to cover repeated mistakes by its management.
I reported that there seemed little cohesion of national policy and procedure implementation. There is no strategic vision as different offices can operate in different ways. Really basic stuff! Making decisions which are quickly overturned over and over again such as posties being on foot, then their own cars, then trolley boxes, then bikes and then in pairs in vans. All this over just a few years. Ridiculous, and shows just how poor the leadership at Royal Mail is.
Royal Mail was privatised in 2013 and wants to be seen as working to keep costs down for consumers and making service improvements. But it needs to do a lot more work, listen to consumers and stop repeating mistakes and wasting money!
For anyone interested, here’s a table showing the effect of price increases over the last decade.
Cost of second class stamps Cost of first class stamps
First class stamps will increase in price by 3p to 70p on Monday 25th March 2019. And second class goes up from 58p to 61p!
However, Royal Mail has also made a “mistake” in doing this! Ofcom capped any rise above 60p until 1 April 2019. On its website it says “Due to an error on our part, our new 2nd Class stamp price of 61p will be 1p above the existing regulatory price cap for a period of 7 days – from March 25 until April 1. We are donating the revenue that we expect to collect from the error – around £60,000 – to the charity Action For Children, which helps disadvantaged children across the UK.”
The cost of stamps has risen year on year.
Cost of second class stamps Cost of first class stamps
% rise on previous year
% rise on previous year
Price of stamps over the years
In researching historic prices for stamps I thought I would find a huge rise in percentage terms following privatisation. Interestingly, that is not the case. Although frequently not in line with inflation (and often lower) and apparently with no sense of planning by Royal Mail throughout the years, it actually raised its prices more before privatisation. But although privatisation may have actually kept the cost of a stamp down, it has spectacularly failed in other areas, apparently due to bad financial decisions by management.
Royal Mail and the move to privatisation
Royal Mail was a public service. However, Wikipedia states that “following the Postal Services Act 2011 a majority of the shares in Royal Mail were floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2013 A 30% stake was retained by the Government but the rest of Royal Mail was sold in 2015.” An Essex postman of 20 years who wants to remain anonymous (we’ll call him Essex Postie), says that about 18 months prior to privatisation things changed dramatically. Posties were told that they would have new, regimented, working hours which meant more ‘calls’ and longer hours, but no pay rise. Essex Postie says “If we finished our rounds within the time period set, we would have to return to the office and complete other duties / deliveries. We were allowed to ‘cut off’, meaning if the day was heavy and we couldn’t deliver before our specified time we could take the remainder back to the office. However, this was highly frowned upon by management staff who wanted a clear office to meet their targets”.
And remember the rebranding of Royal Mail to Consignia in 2002? That was a massively expensive failure. Royal Mail is still reeling from the cost of that.
Royal Mail changes to service over the years
With the increasing use of couriers and email over the years it is no surprise that Royal Mail profits are down and we certainly haven’t seen the increases of previous years. But Royal Mail and even Essex Postie says that the prices are still some of the lowest in the world. However, remember when the postie was the first to notice when an elderly person didn’t come to the door and the postie could raise the alarm that something was wrong? Essex Postie says that, historically, it was always ‘job and finish’, meaning that you were given the autonomy to manage your round, albeit if you were paid beyond your actual work time (good for posties but not so cost efficient for Royal Mail!) But, because of this most took a sense of civic pride in their work. Essex Postie says “I didn’t just deliver mail, I helped people who’d locked themselves out of their homes, notified countless customers that had left their keys in their doors and gave witness statements to police following incidents I had seen on my round. I could stop and chat to a lonely pensioner, or ask if the housebound needed anything bringing to them.” All that has gone. Whilst I appreciate that giving posties unrestricted hours would give rise to obvious issues, surely there is scope for some middle ground?
Essex Postie says that the numerous changes over the years have contributed to a culture of resentment towards management and no sense of office camaraderie. This, he says, has led to colleagues taking much less pride in their role and not having time, good will, or inclination to offer the pastoral care they used to provide to their customers and communities.
Delivery offices once had experienced managers who worked their way up and remained loyal to their office and staff who were hired on permanent full-time contracts. This has changed significantly. Managers started to be moved around from office-to-office, causing upheaval and uncertainty. ‘Casuals’ had always been employed at Christmas to assist with the four-week busy period. However, slowly but surely ‘Casuals’ started to appear as part of the general workforce, to the point of actually taking over some roles completely. New staff hired now are only offered 20hrs per week contracts and if an existing employee (who may have worked in their office for 20 years plus) requests a transfer to another office they must also drop down to 20 hours!
Lack of strategy and consistency
There seems little cohesion of national policy and procedure implementation and one manager at one office can decide to do something very different (and, often, controversial) to a counterpart elsewhere, creating disparity and resentment amongst staff. For example, some offices do ‘absorption’ and some don’t have to. This is the round of a walk that is not permanently covered by a permanent delivery person which is shared out between 4 people who are expected to deliver this without any extra pay. Other examples are staff being sent out again after their walks have been delivered, although this doesn’t happen at all offices. Some offices still allow staff to use their own cars for deliveries.
There were a number of changes, with posties starting out on foot, then using a Royal Mail bicycle, then their own cars, then cars were banned, trolley boxes were introduced, then a return to Royal Mail mountain bikes, then working in pairs (one of whom would drive due to moving into a new fleet of Royal Mail vans (because ‘parcel drivers’ would no longer exist and all delivery staff would now have to take letters AND parcels as all the rounds were reassigned.)
Royal Mail and the community
A Royal Mail spokesperson said “Every day we receive reports of our people going above and beyond in the communities they serve. Royal Mail takes its corporate responsibility very seriously. We are proud of the work our people do in the community, which goes far beyond delivering mail and parcels.”
Last year it began working with the Home Office on a new community service, “Safe and Connected“, to help tackle loneliness. During the trial postmen and women from three delivery offices – Liverpool North, Whitby and New Malden, made regular scheduled visits to pre-selected volunteer participants to check on their well-being.
However, it is a trial. It is specific. It was not what we used to know, the natural part and parcel of the job. I asked Royal Mail if staff were given extra hours to undertake this work, or if their rounds were shorter and if there were plans for a roll out. A spokesperson said “We do not anticipate any delay or disruption to the postal round from this trial. We will be considering feedback from all parties including the trial participants before any decisions are made about the future of the service.”
Is it just me that thinks it is peculiar that what used to be part and parcel of a job which staff were clearly happy to do now needs to be part of a limited trial?
What of the future for Royal Mail?
So, perhaps the privatised Royal Mail wants to be seen as working to keep costs down for consumers and with improved service for its customers compared with before privatisation? However, you know what? I for one would be more than happy to pay a penny more for a stamp if it meant that Essex Postie and his colleagues could go back to taking pride in their work, looking out for the vulnerable and helping to be the eyes and ears of local communities.
What do you think? Would you be happy to spend an extra penny on a stamp if it meant an improvement in service?