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Royal Mail

Volume 569: debated on Thursday 24 October 2013

2. How many and what proportion of employees of Royal Mail opted out of the allocation of free shares. (900669)

Of the approximately 150,000 employees who were eligible for free employee shares, only 372 opted out of the scheme. Therefore, 99.75% of employees have accepted the shares that we offered them.

Is not the number of posties who have opted out of the scheme remarkably low? Despite the threats of industrial action and union militancy, is it not clear that the vast majority of Royal Mail employees have accepted the invitation from Her Majesty’s Government to take part in the biggest employee share scheme of any major privatisation?

Yes, it is a very positive story. The engagement of almost every employee of Royal Mail is extremely encouraging. I seem to remember that under the last Labour Government we lost in the order of 2 million working days through industrial action in every single year. This is a big change for the better.

May I remind the Secretary of State that before this privatisation every one of my constituents had a share in Royal Mail? It has been revealed that only a tiny number of people in most constituencies now have any shares at all and that the Prime Minister’s hedge fund friends own a lot of them.

On the contrary, the share register is dominated by large long-term institutional investors, most of whom hold the savings of millions of our citizens.

This afternoon, I am due to meet for lunch that great Welsh export and one of the world’s best rugby players, George North. As the Secretary of State knows, George North was bought by Northampton from the mighty Scarlets at a very reasonable price during the summer. Does he think that the hedge funds feel the same as Northampton Saints, because they have acquired the Royal Mail crown jewels at a cut price?

No; in fact, the offer was framed in such a way as to ensure that the shares were acquired predominantly by long-term institutional investors. A few hedge funds are involved and, indeed, some hedge funds take a long-term view.

Many small businesses and consumers across the country rely on local delivery offices such as the one in Feltham to pick up parcels and important letters. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is nothing to prevent Royal Mail from selling off its local properties across the country and moving them to out-of-town locations that will be far more difficult to reach?

I think I know the sorting office that the hon. Lady is talking about, because it is the one that serves my constituency. It was rebuilt and re-equipped three years ago, I believe, so it is wildly improbable that the Royal Mail will now want to sell it.