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Royal Mail (Yorkshire and North East)

Volume 516: debated on Thursday 14 October 2010

13. What consultation Royal Mail plans to undertake with businesses and the public on proposals to close sorting offices in Yorkshire and the North East. (17267)

Decisions regarding the rationalisation of Royal Mail’s mail centres are operational matters, which are the responsibility of the company’s senior management team. The Government are not directly involved in those decisions. The rationalisation process was centred on an agreement between the Communication Workers Union and Royal Mail. I understand that Royal Mail is not obliged to consult publicly on its internal review of proposals for restructuring its mail centres. However, it commits to keep all interested external stakeholders informed, and I believe that it has been in contact with the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman and the Government should be concerned about how the Post Office and Royal Mail serve their customers. Two years ago, when Royal Mail shifted the sorting of second-class mail from York to Leeds, it gave me a firm undertaking that it would consult the public if ever it considered shifting the sorting of first-class mail as well, and closing the York sorting office. That is what the company now proposes, but it has not consulted. Will the Minister ensure that the company consults businesses that will be affected and the general public in my constituency, or does the Government’s enthusiasm for privatising Royal Mail put them in a position in which they are no longer concerned about the customer?

I am sure that Royal Mail will again be in contact with the hon. Gentleman on those points, but he must tell his constituents that the experience of rationalising mail sorting centres has led not only to efficiency improvements that reduce the costs of sorting and delivering mail, but to an improvement in customer service to his constituents. If he wants quality and delivery to improve for his constituents, he should support that rationalisation.

May I urge the Minister to consult carefully with the remote businesses and communities of the Yorkshire dales which rely hugely on the Royal Mail to survive and conduct their business?

My hon. Friend is right that the Royal Mail needs to consider the interests of small and medium enterprises. Indeed, it is part of our approach in the Postal Services Bill to ensure that our new policy framework will do that. I hope that he will be reassured that experience of rationalising mail sorting centres has led to significant improvements to customer service.

Can the Minister explain what guarantees he will give that a privatised Royal Mail service will continue to do business through the Post Office rather than looking for other outlets and perhaps leaving rural post offices in Yorkshire and elsewhere with very little hope of survival?

May I begin by welcoming the hon. Lady to her new role? I look forward to many weeks in Committee considering the Bill. She will know that there is an agreement between Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd, called the inter-business agreement, and it is that agreement—not a Government guarantee—that decides that relationship. We expect and believe that that inter-business agreement will continue.