Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 170)

TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001

MR JOHN ROBERTS, MS MARISA CASSONI, MR JERRY COPE AND MR PAUL RICH

  160. So fingers crossed that we can expect "I require my mail by 9.30", "Yes, Mr Hoyle, you may have your mail by 9.30 but we are going to charge".
  (Mr Cope) That is exactly the sort of thing that we need to find out in the pilots, you are absolutely right.

Chairman

  161. The Dutch seem to get on with getting it at four o'clock in the afternoon.
  (Mr Cope) They do. Everywhere in Europe does basically ten o'clock to about four o'clock for non business areas. I would hope to do better than that.

Mr Hoyle

  162. I should hope so.
  (Mr Cope) That is the standard in Europe.
  (Mr Roberts) Let us be clear, Mr Hoyle, I get my mail at seven o'clock in the evening, not because it is delivered at seven o'clock in the evening but because that is when I get home to get it. There are many people who are not in between seven and 9.30 in the morning and, therefore, the fact that we desperately try and deliver the mail then actually does not make any difference to them at all. There are other people who desperately want it at that time and what Jerry has been trying to describe is we have got to try and find a way where we do meet those demands. There is also a difference between the business customer or the business person working at home who may have the whole of their day geared to getting their mail early in the morning as opposed to somebody else who actually is quite happy to have their mail during the day but is not particularly bothered about whether it is before 9.30 as opposed to 10.30 or 11. Those are the kinds of things we are researching. As the Chairman has just said, in Europe, now, very few countries do have a second delivery for the same reason that we have found, that the amount of mail on it is getting so small because we are able to get mail through the system faster, that it is available to be taken out earlier in the day. What we want to do, though, is to look at the best way to deliver that mail. Now we genuinely have not taken any decisions. We are working very closely with the consumer body, Postwatch, and they will, I am sure, make it very clear to us if they feel that we are not going in the right direction, so that is why the pilots are so important.

  163. That has not been answered. I have asked a question that has not been answered. What research have you done about collecting your mail from the railway station?
  (Mr Roberts) On that specific issue we have done a little bit of research and very few people want it. If they want it really badly I do not see why we should not try to provide it, if it is straight forward for us to do so.

  164. That does look as if it has gone ahead, you have done a pilot scheme somewhere.
  (Mr Roberts) No, we have not done a pilot scheme on collecting from railways.

Mr Djanogly

  165. Is it true that Consignia has been losing nearly one million items of mail a week and, if so, what are you doing about it?
  (Mr Roberts) No, it is not. We have, for example, 60 million items of mail a year which we are unable to deliver partly because the addresses may be wrong or people have gone away. All of that is handled by a particular branch set up in Belfast that tries to get mail back to the originator. There is no doubt that some mail does go missing and certainly if you look at the complaints that we get, the highest number of complaints are about lost mail.

  166. It was Postwatch who said that, by the way.
  (Mr Roberts) I know it was, yes. We have had long and interesting debates with them about whether the sample that we have done was really representative of that kind of number. In fact, the absolute number coming out of the sample was actually somewhat less than a million but we always have real worries about the samples. What we are trying to do with Postwatch is to jointly look at where there is lost mail, and inevitably there is some lost mail, what are the causes of lost mail. We do get robberies, you do lose mail, we do have these sad cases where you suddenly find a postman has got a loft full of mail, all those sorts of things happen. I have never accepted at all, and I still do not, that we are losing something like one million items of mail a week. There are all sorts of reasons why mail cannot be delivered. Sometimes it is delivered or a neighbour will take it in, somebody is away on holiday or whatever, people will write in and say they have missed something but if they then get it later they do not write in and say "it is okay, I have got it". There is a whole raft of issues around it. I would not want to say we never lose mail, of course we do for the sorts of reasons I have talked about, but it is very important we try to get that to an absolute minimum.

Sir Robert Smith

  167. My constituent, who has been lobbying you hard through me for quite some time about reviewing the whole second delivery because he wondered why he was subsidising this situation, must be rejoicing that you are looking at it. The problem in places like the North East of Scotland, which whilst being the oil capital of Europe has no airport at night, is that your mail arrives so late for sorting that without the second delivery it looks like there is no way you will meet the obligations of delivering the first class mail the next day. In these pilots will there be ways of dealing with the peripherals?
  (Mr Cope) We will not introduce any changes in delivery that worsen our ability to deliver mail the next day. I am not an expert on the network in the North East of Scotland but if that happens we will have to start, as we do at the moment, delivering later to make sure. The work that we are doing is aimed at accelerating mail through the system, actually getting it to places faster so as to enable us to take advantage of the single delivery system. It is not a single bit of work, it is a whole series of bits of work.

Mr Lansley

  168. Following up the point we were discussing, if you arrive at a point where for your own purposes in order to reduce costs you want to diminish the service that you presently provide under the Universal Service Obligation, or you want in effect to increase the price, because that will be the effect of charging customers for a particular delivery, do you accept that under those circumstances that service should be offered open to competition for others to take it on on the same basis?
  (Mr Cope) It is a good question. If there is an area where we are not offering the service it would be unreasonable to expect others to be denied the opportunity to provide that service, that is what you are saying. I think there are some issues underneath that question, complex issues, around our obligations in relation to the Universal Service Obligation where, as you have said, they are trade-offs. It is not possible for us to deliver all the mail by eight o'clock in the area that Sir Robert was talking about and if we are only able to deliver at ten o'clock because of railway services or air services—

  169. The deal is a Universal Service Obligation at a uniform price and if you cannot do that then you are out of a monopoly.
  (Mr Roberts) At a simple level that is right.

Chairman

  170. On that point, can I thank you. It has been rather longer than any of us anticipated and I realise you want to get home to get your mail.
  (Mr Roberts) Nobody writes to me any more, Chairman.

  Chairman: You are lucky. Tell us your secret. I think it is fair to say we would like to think you might be able to come and see us before Whit. I think that is a reasonable time. I realise today we have covered, I was going to say a tour d'horizon, virtually everything we wanted, although there are one or two matters you might like to clarify by letter. We are very grateful to you. Thank you very much and good luck with the next two weeks.





 
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