Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
140. Do you have a contract dealing with these
sorts of things between yourselves and the Department?
(Mr Rich) We have a contract that recognises it is
the Department for Work and Pensions' product and they can say
what they like about that.
(Mr Roberts) There are certain restrictions on us,
(Mr Rich) There are certain restrictions on us.
141. Which means you take what you are given?
(Mr Rich) No.
(Mr Roberts) This is technical and at one level it
is a change of the way the Government Department on behalf of
the Government is going to pay benefit. At one level we do not
have the right to actually interpret that. It is important that
the DWP, which is accountable for that, actually does say "This
is the way it is going to be handled". We can certainly add
to that by making sure that people do understand it and the role
of sub postmasters, I have to say, day in, day out, is very much
about interpreting and explaining some of the things that come
out. It would be quite wrong for us to get in the middle and start,
as it were, changing the words of what is something which is a
Government policy explained by DWP.
142. Do you have DWP people based in your offices?
(Mr Roberts) In our post offices?
143. In your head office?
(Mr Roberts) No.
Chairman: I think the word patsy maybe was not
that far away from it because certainly those of us who remember
Horizon in all its shapes and forms, it was their fault and you
had better go off and make sure you are not going to take unnecessary
blame for it, I would imagine. Can we just shift away from that
and go back for a few minutes to services, we did not quite finish
some of the points we wanted to get on the record. Mr Hoyle is
going to ask you on that and then we will let you get away.
144. Obviously there are lots of reports about
mismatch of what is going on. Behind it we hear that you may be
able to pick the mail up at railway stations or you will be charged
extra to receive the mail before 9.30. Behind all that is hiding
and doing away with the second delivery. Now I just wonder which
of these press reports do we believe and which of the services
are no longer required? One just wonders is it the fact they are
no longer required or is the bottom line that you just cannot
deliver on the services you provide?
(Mr Cope) Certainly in the 1950s and 1960s we needed
a second delivery because railways were slower, road transport
was less efficient, all those sorts of things and, secondly, it
was all well loaded with mail. If I turn back to what is the situation
at the moment. Only four per cent of mail is delivered on second
delivery yet it costs us 30 per cent of our time on the streets.
There is a clear mismatch between, if you like, the unit costs
of first delivery and the unit costs of second delivery. Most
customers, because it is only four per cent of mail, actually
do not get mail on a second delivery every day, even though we
do a second delivery everywhere we go.
Sir Robert Smith: Every urban area.
145. I was just going to say that does not quite
(Mr Cope) In what sense?
146. Not everybody has ever had a second delivery.
(Mr Cope) No.
147. I know I have never had one.
(Mr Cope) In the rural areas people have never had
a second delivery but 90 per cent of people get
148. Even in urban areas.
(Mr Cope) Yes, a few have not, I agree, but 90 per
cent of people get a second delivery. We have taken the view that
we need to make our deliveries more efficient and, most importantly,
more reliable as well because it is very hard in lots of areas
of the country to get staff, getting up very early and that sort
of thing. Following some market research, which we did with Postwatch,
we have decided in principle to move to a single delivery of the
day for residential customers and still have two deliveries a
day for the heavy user business customers. We intend to pilot
that early in the New Year. Now contrary to all the reports we
have seen in the press which you ask about, actually the pilots
are going to sort out what sort of things we want to do, what
sort of things the customers want, what sort of things are sensible
for customers, all that sort of stuff, and it is the pilots which
will be very important in that process. We are going to work very
closely with Postwatch particularly putting together those pilots
and evaluating the work.
149. It is interesting to say you will listen
to what customers have to say and you will do a survey. Will it
be slightly better than the survey that you carried out on Crown
post offices where, yes, you do a survey but you ignore the view?
(Mr Cope) We have done a lot of surveys already.
150. Do you take on board what people say or
do you ignore them? It seems to me your surveys are worthless.
(Mr Cope) Not in this case, no.
151. Not in this case but others were. The other
point is, can I get it right that you said 90 per cent of people
at the moment receive a second delivery?
(Mr Cope) Correct, 90 per cent by mail volume.
152. Would be eligible?
(Mr Cope) Yes.
153. The second part of this, seeing how you
are cutting back on the services that you provide, what guarantees
have we got of further services and what else can we expect to
see withdrawn? What else is in the pipeline?
(Mr Cope) We are not intending to cut back on services.
What we are trying to do is make them more reliable and more efficient,
I think something all our customers would like to have. We are
moving services around to try and respond to customer demand and
customer needs for sensible pricing, reliable services, those
sorts of things.
154. What are you looking at and what services
have been considered for being withdrawn? What else is under the
(Mr Cope) Nothing.
155. There is absolutely nothing else under
(Mr Cope) Not of a major nature.
156. The first part of my question, you have
not touched on that. The gimmicks, picking up your mail from railway
stations, how will that work? Are you pursuing that people have
to pay extra for mail to be delivered before 9.30, in which case
you are going back to having a second delivery?
(Mr Cope) There will be some people who will want
their mail delivered early and it is very important for them.
Now in most cases we may be able to do that without charge and
in some cases it may require a charge. It is this sort of thing
that we are going to look at in the pilots, to see what the balance
of advantage is for customers and for ourselves, because this
is a commercial arrangement between ourselves and the customers,
to work this sort of thing out. I do not know the answer to that
yet. I will know it better when we have done the pilots.
157. Can I just pursue that point because it
is very, very interesting. Some customers may pay, some customers
may not, so in a sense the universal service that we all benefited
from or that we are all meant to benefit from may be reduced because
I presume that people who want a 9.30 service in the urban areas
will probably get it free, the likelihood is that those in the
rural areas will have to pay. How do you decide who will pay and
who will get it free?
(Mr Cope) No, we will do it more by volume. You make
a big assumption that we have decided people will have to pay.
158. It is the only assumption you have given
(Mr Cope) No, I have said it is an alternative.
159. To what?
(Mr Cope) To not paying. We do not know what the demand
for such a service will be until we have done some pilot work.
We do not know how we will be able to organise ourselves in the
sense of the cheapness with which we will be able to do it. We
do not know how it will work out in terms of the mail volumes
coming through the network, all that sort of thing. That is what
the pilots are all about. I think you are jumping to conclusions,
which the press jumped to as well, that we are going to make people
pay for the service. We have made no decision in that respect.