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Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Hallmark of a civilised nation

A universal postal service is the hallmark of a civilised nation. Royal Mail can trace its origins back to 1516, when Henry VIII appointed a Master of the Posts. UK postage stamps remain unique, being the only stamps anywhere in the world not to bear a country name. The sight of our post boxes and network of small Post Offices are a daily affirmation of our national identity.

Of course no-one wants to go back on the 1981 decision to split-off British Telecom. Our pre-privatisation telephone service was abysmal. However, I really think we missed a trick by not endowing Royal Mail with some proportion of the licence fees from telecoms networks - the coppernet as well as airspace. Why shouldn't mobile phone users, for instance, directly subsidise something so intrinsic to our national well-being rather than paying the same licence fees to the Treasury which squanders them on welfare payments?

There are few British institutions that truly deserve national funding and which the private sector can't provide. Our armed forces are amongst them. So is our postal service.


nick drew said...

Mr R, I am genuinely interested in where people draw the line between state / monopoly provision of goods & services, and private / competitive provision.

e.g. for decades it was a near-universal tenet (even in the USA) that provision of telephony, electricity and gas was a 'natural monopoly'. This has been handsomely disproved, with enormous cost-reductions ensuing, & you seem to agree with liberalising telecomms.

Why do you place postal services on the other side of the line? Can you define any general principles for drawing the line?

Newmania said...

Good point Nick ...(whose real name I now know ....)Its Samantha. I`m not sure what the problem is R , the Post seems to work.

I think the Railways were better run by the governement . A lot better

Roger Thornhill said...

Some things are best as a natural monopoly. Natural monopolies are best in State hands (I need to post on why I believe this at some stage).

What comes to every doorstep every day is one of them. Water pipes, power lines, gas mains, sewer drains, road, street lights and rubbish collection.

This does not mean that the water is purified by the same company, nor the electricity or gas produced by the same or by a monopoly. This concept already exists for Broadband connections. BT Wholesale is a company that runs the ADSL network yet you buy ADSL services from independent companies who run their own servers etc. Just enough is a monopoly, but little else.

This does not yet apply to Water, but does apply to electricity and gas and poss rubbish collection (I suspect many councils pass on refuse to 3rd party landfil and recycling orgs).

As with BT Wholesale, so it should be with Royal Mail and the Post Office. We need ONE company to provide letter boxes and Post Offices and, large parcels aside, deliver the daily post. It makes sense to have one Postie who is a regular and trusted.

Beware, most changes are stalking horses for EU "harmonisation". There is even a plan to replace the Royal Crests on Letterboxes with the EU Stars. EU are the Borg - make no mistake.

nick drew said...

Well then, Mr Mania, look me up, give me a call and I'll buy you those drinks I promised (if you don't mind drinking with someone called Samantha)

RT, I agree with (almost) everything you say, and so we may have a rough version for a first criterion. Any others?

(BTW I shall be interested in your State ownership argument because I'm going to disagree)

Mr R, as a aside, I always enjoy seeing old 'ER' and 'GR' pillar-boxes in Ireland - painted a rich shade of green, of course: national identity whoops...

CityUnslicker said...

They are destroying the Post Office by stealth anyway. Watch the axe fall after the local elections...

Raedwald said...

Nick - personally I think it's as much about one-nation as about natural monopoly. For the richest or poorest in the land, whether in a flat in Shoreditch, a house in Bath, a cottage on the Welsh hills or a remote Scottish croft, it is the one service that links us all with absolute equality. A truly universal service. The market would never provide that - only profitable rounds would be retained, the wealthy would be offered a 'premium' service, costs would rocket.

nick drew said...

I agree that the market would never, of its own volition, provide a universal delivery service (at a flat rate of postal charge), and that for One Nation reasons this is eminently desirable.

However, a private franchisee can be required to do so under the terms of its licence, and indeed have other 'social' (= not strictly economic) provisions imposed, as in telecomms, electricity and gas.

This will lead us back to RT's assertion: "natural monopolies are best in State hands" which will be interesting to hear more about.

Ed said...

Interesting! I've pontificated to myself for years about whether it would be possible to breathe new life into the Mail somehow (they can be foolishly incompetant sometimes) but I can't think of how so maybe a state monopoly really is the only way to run it.

As for the running-down of Post Offices - it's criminal.

Electro Kevin said...

The railways were able to do things cheaper under BR. GNER is virtually insolvent and First Great Western are experiencing extreme operational/financial difficulties and all of this is because of the franchising process post privatisation.

Virgin wasted enormous amounts on the West Coast route 140mph speeds which have been abandoned.

nick drew said...

You know most abt the railways Kev, seems like a botched job all round.

But efficiency in the energy & telecomms industries have improved out of all recognition since privatisation + introduction of competition.

In the face of widespread resistance (not least on the part of the companies themselves initially), and some economic theories which declared a priori that this was not possible.

So we still need to proceed carefully when drawing the line, and I'm always on the lookout for views on how it's to be drawn.