Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
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.
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.
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.
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
(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
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
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.
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.