THE VILLAGE SOAPBOX

Ron mounts his soapbox to comment on recent happening with the Royal Mail and Speed Cameras

THE ROYAL MAIL

The strike may be over for the moment but I think we will be seeing the death throes of the Royal Mail in the near future. What a tragedy that will be. It is one of the finest mail services in the world. Wherever you are you are never far from a post box and, wherever you are you will receive a letter delivered to your door, and, usually, if first class, the day after it was posted. All done for a single modest fee.

Unfortunately the Government has been set on pursuing a doctrinaire ideology to privatise the Royal Mail and has conspired with the management to make it inevitable and, by making it appear that the service cannot operate because of an intransigent work force, hoping to make it acceptable to the general public. They have maintained that the service needs to be modernised and that the only way this can be achieved is by bringing in private capital. It is true that Royal Mail is short of funds for modernisation but this is simply because the Government have starved Royal Mail of funds by exerting control over the prices charged. (Our post has cost very much less than services in other European countries.) They have also robbed Royal Mail of revenue by permitting private concerns to take the ‘cream’ business from large businesses, those private concerns have enjoyed the revenue but have lived on the back of Royal Mail because it was Royal Mail posties who actually delivered the mail for them.

Peter Mandelson claims that the union is opposed to modernisation. Mark Steel poked some fun at him in a newspaper article, pointing out that “he has the thoroughly modern job title of ‘Lord’,and no one could accuse his place of work , the House of Lords, of resisting modernisation. Every member of staff there is at the cutting edge of new technology, making use of the very latest developments in ermine gowns and every single Lord is essential”

The management have claimed that the quantity of mail is falling because of the internet e-mails and telephone text messages and quote statistics to support this argument. The truth of this claim cannot be verified easily and it is challenged by the postmen and women. It seems that the management measure the mail by counting the boxes used at the sorting of the mail, claiming that these boxes contain 150 items on average, but those that have counted the contents claim that they actually contain nearer 250. It may be true that the quantity of mail has reduced but that is not my personal experience, I don’t think we have ever received so much mail as we do these days. Certainly many of the older generation still send letters, we still send birthday and Christmas cards and most bills still come by post. Whilst the internet has produced e-mails it has also resulted in a considerable increase in the use of the postal services for the delivery of goods of one sort or another. It has also increased the volume of advertising material for mail orders. Many businesses have grown up through the use of the internet combined with the service provided by Royal Mail.

At the time of writing it seems to me that the management deliberately provoked the strike and is frustrating attempts at obtaining a settlement, with the hand of the old devil Peter Mandelson pulling the strings, he is determined that the service will be privatised. It may be coincidence that the Government recently introduced a rule that after thirteen weeks receiving unemployment pay the recipient has to accept an interview and, if successful, accept the job regardless of their particular expertise. And, quite coincidentally, at the time of the strike, the Royal Mail just happens to have 30,000 vacancies, so, no matter if you are a computer scientist, a mathematician or a physiotherapist, you have got to go and work as a strike breaker or lose your benefit.

I believe very strongly that for a postal service to be really effective and efficient it has to be a monopoly. We surely do not want different postal services vying for our custom, we could finish up, as in some other countries, with separate post boxes and different delivery arrangements, perhaps having to collect one’s mail from a collecting point. What we want is the sort of service that Royal Mail has provided for years. But, because it has to be a monopoly, it surely must be state owned if we are to ensure that we are not held to ransom by a private concern seeking to maximise profits. One thing we can be sure of is that if there is an input of private capital the cost of mail will increase. It is also probable that the frequency of collections and deliveries will be reduced and the deliveries to remote locations will be even less frequent. Many of those that have tried to use private mail companies recently have discovered how much more expensive they are and how inferior the service is.

Personally I am very angry about the way in which successive governments have pursued a policy of asset stripping. Privatisation has brought a short term benefit to the Exchequer, making it easier for the Governments to balance their books and making it appear that they are doing a good job of maintaining prosperity. In the long term, however, we have lost the revenue that those concerns could have provided and we have seen the prices of services or goods provided by privatised industries rise beyond reason. Despite subsidies by the Government greater than the subsidies that were provided to British Rail, it now costs £1000 for a return by rail from Cornwall to Scotland.

Mandelson and Brown are continuing the process. Privatising Royal Mail will just be another disaster for the general public and now they are proposing to sell off the Tote, the Dartford crossing (what nice little earners they are), the high speed line through Kent, student loans etc. Soon there will be nothing left in the cupboard.

SPEED CAMERAS

At the Conservative Party conference they made a promise that there would be no more speed cameras, they would switch to alternative means of reducing road accidents. Why on earth would they say that? Could it be that they think that that will win them votes from the speedophiles? Or is it because of the campaign followed by some national newspapers?

It is claimed that speed cameras have cut accidents by 40% at black spots, saving 900 lives a year. As far as I know surveys have shown that a majority are in favour of the use of speed cameras. Furthermore I understand that they are self financing. So why not use them? Certainly there is need for further measures to reduce accidents, we no longer have the best road accidents statistics in Europe and we have an unacceptably high number of children killed or injured on our roads. A number of people have advocated an increase in the number of areas in towns and villages where a 20mph limit is imposed and there has been talk in the Government of imposing a 50mph limit on many single carriageway rural roads. Both are suggestions that I would support, but there is no point in having speed limits without enforcement.

A survey of AA members revealed that 69% thought that the number of points on a driving licence for speeding should be doubled to give 6, 66% favoured lower drink drive limits and 52% would like to see more 20mph zones. There was also a wish to see more effort to tackle the problem of drivers affected by drugs. It might be argued that AA members are not a very representative bunch, more likely to be middleaged and, perhaps, rather stuffy and unadventurous types. Equally it could be argued that they are likely to be more experienced and wiser.

The Government has set a goal of making Britain’s roads the safest in the world and to cut fatalities and injuries by 33% within 10years. We all wish them success.

Flashing lights might warn us of speed limits, but while most law abiding citizens might appreciate a flashing light to warn them that they are breaking the speed limit, what would the Conservatives propose to do with those who choose to ignore the flashing lights? Let us have more flashing lights, more chicanes, better road junctions, and whatever improvements the Conservatives may propose, but why should they exclude self financing speed cameras?

Ron Watts

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