Fears raised over future of Royal Mail and impact on rural Yorkshire

Nidderdale. Picture: Adrian Murray

Nidderdale. Picture: Adrian Murray

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Fears for the future of Royal Mail and the potentially devastating impact on rural areas like Nidderdale have been raised this week.

The universal service obligation (USO) offered by the company, which was privatised from October 2013, sees delivery for a single price across the UK, six days every week.

Now, however, this is under threat as postal competitors cherry-pick the most lucrative routes in urban areas, leaving Royal Mail with the more expensive rural services, according to chief executive Moya Greene who gave evidence to the business select committee in the House of Commons this week.

Concerns have been put forward by several organisations, including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), claiming that people living and working in places like Nidderdale would suffer if the USO was forced to end.

Pateley Bridge division Coun John Fort (Con) is similarly worried. He said: “I am always concerned about countryside services that may be under threat.

“I do understand that Royal Mail profits are obviously down and no doubt they will be looking at making efficiencies but nothing is changing yet.

“The domestic service and the business service runs together and one affects the other, so one would be concerned about that.

“In view of the little information we have it is very hard to know what impact there will be on the isolated, but any diminution of the service in my view would lead to difficulties in the rural area. The battle goes on.

“It is difficult to know how to get around it because we’re not in a position to have all the information, but we have always said in Pateley Bridge where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Ofcom, the postal regulator, has been asked to step in urgently to put measures in place to ensure Royal Mail can still make the required profits to continue delivery to all areas.

If it doesn’t, however, and the threat to the USO continues to grow, rural services will suffer, says CLA north regional director Dorothy Fairburn.

“Without the daily post, rural services that are already under significant strain will be seriously undermined,” she said.

“Any suggestion that Royal Mail is seeking to amend or possibly abolish the USO in the future is a serious threat to everyone living and working in the countryside.

“We recognise that Royal Mail must seek to generate profit. However, this has to be addressed through achieving fair competition not removing a vital service from rural consumers.”

The CLA, which represents thousands of landowners, farmers, and rural businesses, is set to write to Ofcom calling for serious consideration of extending of USO to other operators in the postal market.

A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Royal Mail is fully committed to the six-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere universal postal service to all 29 million UK addresses.

“We have put in a detailed and comprehensive submission to Ofcom on the dangers posed to the USO by unfettered direct delivery competition.

“We are asking Ofcom to bring forward its planned review of direct delivery and put in place measures to address the threat it poses to the financial sustainability of the USO.”