I’ve been writing about the Post Office and Royal Mail for years. Sometimes I get tired of repeating the reasons why they matter so immensely to our public life but I’ve drunk some coffee and am chewing on the barley sugar ; should work.
Rage is though a better kick starter than caffeine. And the news from Royal Mail since its sell off 10 days ago should make us all angry. The only debate has been about whether Royal Mail was sold off too cheaply. We are to be outraged- and indeed we are- at the news that shares are now changing hands at 50 percent more than they were a week ago.(Tiny bit of good news-ten percent of the shares have been given to RM employees for free. We could also hail the 368 Royal Mail employees who haven’t taken their share in an apparent triumph of morality over finance).
But this scandal, if thats what it is, clearly results from the original and much bigger scandal- the sell off itself.Royal Mail is now in profit; the Government has taken over the pension fund, it is set to benefit from the online shopping boom; it has a good, stable workforce which has been greatly reduced over the past few years through plans agreed with the Communication Workers Union, so that there have been 44,000 job losses and not a single forced redundancy. It is a success story, a part of our cotidian life, a good employer, with an expanding market; it contributed £144m in profits to the public sphere last year.
The Government through the Business Secretary Michael Fallon, says that Royal Mail needs capital to expand and that the Government can’t afford to give it to them. This is a tawdry get -out. Royal Mail would have no difficulty raising money on the capital markets if the Government gave them the go-ahead. It wouldn’t cost us anything.
So why has this ancient, flexible, responsive institution that we have always owned been sold off?
Ideology . Thats it. No other reason. Harold Macmillan called this sort of thing ‘selling off the family silver’ and even Mrs Thatcher famously balked at selling off Royal Mail and the Post Office.
There is though another reason why this sell off is plunder. It is not only the past that should concern us . The Government is screwing up the future too. There are few national institutions embedded and trusted in our community lives that have the capacity to link us up. We know that when times get hard, its the social fabric, the local communities, that hunker down and keep everything going till the danger is past. Take away our publicly owned communications network- infinitely able through 500 years to respond to our needs and changes- and you take away another layer of safety, efficiency, and even of morality(the ethos of public service).
Thats whats being thrown to the speculators. And its a tragedy.