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Postal Services

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2023

Ofcom has a duty to ensure the provision of a financially sustainable and efficient universal postal service. Ofcom oversees Royal Mail’s contingency plans to mitigate disruption to universal postal services, and it continues to closely monitor Royal Mail’s performance.

Does the Minister share my deep concerns about the creeping increased shareholding in Royal Mail by Vesa Equity Investment, a company whose chief executive, Daniel Křetínský, has close ties to Russia? What guarantees can the Minister give about the future of our cherished, 500-year-old Royal Mail?

As I say, we have no plans to change the universal service requirements of the postal service. This Government are proud of their credentials on foreign direct investment, and we encourage foreign investment into this country. I notice from the global chief executive officer survey today that the UK is third in the world in terms of the places where people want to invest, and we want to make sure that that continues. We looked at this matter from a national security perspective and we did not feel there was an issue, so we welcome that investment.

Sadly, a long-established post office will be closing in my constituency in November, owing to an expansion of the pharmacy there, which is a success story. Many businesses locally, including the council, are desperate to take on a post office franchise. Will the Minister meet me to make sure we can secure Rochester’s having a post office after November?

Of course I will meet my hon. Friend; I have suffered closures of post offices in my constituency, so I know how difficult this is. We are committed to maintaining a network of 11,500 post office outlets and making sure that 99% of the population are within 3 miles of a post office. I am keen to meet her to see what we can do in this instance.

Maintaining the universal service obligation as affordable and accessible for all, ensuring a fair deal for workers and improving the service by Royal Mail are what it will take to ensure the quality of postal services that our constituents need and deserve. Astonishingly, last year the International Distributions Services board led the company to losses of £1 million a day, just six months after reporting huge profits and paying out £567 million in dividends and the share buy-back, putting at risk the stability needed to modernise and keep Britain’s Royal Mail competitive. Is this not so clearly the result of mismanagement at the highest level, and is it not now time for an inquiry into the actions of the board and the CEO and the risks facing the postal service?

The Royal Mail is facing a difficult year—there is no doubt about it. One reason quoted in the update from the Regulatory News Service—this is a regulator-issued news bulletin, so it has to be accurate—on why the company has gone from a profit to a loss was the industrial action by the Communication Workers Union, which is putting tremendous strain on the Royal Mail and its customers, many of whom are going elsewhere, and indeed on the post office network. Will the hon. Lady condemn the fact that this is causing extra difficulties for the Royal Mail and some of these financial problems?