Friday 28 January 2011

Royal Mail met the Public last night – what happened?

Royal Mail at Barrow Road
At 7.30pm on Thursday 27th January 2011, there were about thirty people in the St Francis of Assisi Church Hall in Warwick Road. Sat at a table were David Wright (DW) and Richard Hall (RH) from the Royal Mail and Jeremy Wright MP (JW). In the audience, were local councillors, employees of the Royal Mail and some Kenilworth residents. The meeting started with an introduction by Jeremy Wright and then David Wright introduced himself by saying he was responsible for the eleven delivery offices and all the CV postcodes (which includes the collection and delivery of mail).

DW said that in September 2010, there were changes to the service. Firstly, from hand sorting the mail to using automated mail (80% machine sorting) and Royal Mail got it wrong. He stressed this was NOT the post workers fault. All mail is now sorted in Northampton which means even if a letter is posted in Kenilworth and is addressed to the house next door – it will be collected, sent to Northampton, sorted and sent back to Kenilworth again and delivered. For all other mail, it will arrive and be sorted in Northampton (not sorted in Kenilworth).

Secondly, DW said it was about post worker safety. A delivery worker may be expected to carry twelve, 11kg bags which has lead to many health and safety issues. To counter this, small golf cart trolleys and the larger high capacity trolleys have been introduced (instead of bikes).

And lastly, new technology has been introduced (like handheld PDAs) which are used for electronic signatures allows real time tracking. DW also added the use of shared vans where two workers would drive, stop, and deliver in a looped area. Then drive again, stop and repeat the process. It was also outlined how letters, packets and parcels are all delivered as one (not letters door to door and parcels driven in a van).

On 28 February, it is expected that new routes may be introduced although the March 2011 Census may delay this. The new routes are computer designed, but have flexibility to allow for some local knowledge to be considered. Door Stepping (i.e. leaving a parcel by the door) is no longer allowed; instead customers can arrange a safe drop point. 

Jeremy Wright then asked what happened between 18 December and 5 January 2011 – where was the mail? DW explained it was each deliver manager’s own judgement or decision if they send the post workers out in the snow and ice. DW went on to explain there were 22 accidents including three broken limbs in the CV area. In this time, decisions were made (by Royal Mail) to focus on the delivery of packets (as most were probably Christmas presents) and not the cards.

The meeting then moved on to consider customer communications and how when calling the standard 0845 telephone number there were many push button automated options that many in the audience felt frustrated by. This is the only way to call Royal Mail to rearrange a convenient delivery time. Some audience questions voiced concerns over mail security as some trolleys were seen unattended for many minutes and the shared vans were seen unlocked. DW agreed that this was not acceptable and against Royal Mail guidelines. One audience member asked if the unused drop boxes were to be removed as they are now redundant. 

It was at this point that DW and RH questioned whether it was right that they had even agreed to meet the public as it had never been done before. They had asked the advice of their new Royal Mail Director of Communications who thought it would be a great idea. All the way through the meeting questions were invited, many were subjective about delivery times or first versus second class post. But, it was noted that the mail service may have significantly declined when the sorting office in Coventry closed.

George Illingworth wanted to emphasise one point that is was the Royal Mail management NOT the workers that were at fault. Everyone agreed. In fact, DW expanded on this to say why Kenilworth was chosen as a pilot scheme. DW said it was because of the exceptional Royal Mail team – they are so good. Three Kenilworth workers were at the meeting who told of Fall Down Friday where it was so icy that one of them fell and broke a limb. In my view, this brought home to me the personal stories and the real passion and spirit that these workers are bringing to their duties. There was also one Royal Mail employee from Leamington (but who lived in Kenilworth) voicing critical observations about the system. Comments were made about denationalisation, competitors and sheer volume of mail handled.

But, on a day to day basis mail can be posted at 6pm (7pm in some places) and 95% of it will be delivered the next day. DW/RH talked about the Universal Service Obligation, Postcomm, Ofcom, door to door revenues and Pension Deficit (all of which I may link to later).

In conclusion, Jeremy Wright and DW/RH summed up by saying the Mark 1 pilot has now happened where lessons have been learned and in four weeks time we can expect the Mark 2 pilot to be rolled out. Any comments and evidence of evidence of unreasonably delayed delivery may be emailed to Jeremy Wright which will be forwarded to David Wright (Royal Mail).

The Royal Mail Kenilworth staff would like to say Thank You for the opportunity to have the meeting and would welcome the chance to meet again (they told me that this morning). Perhaps, next time it could be to celebrate the successes when they happen. In my view, meetings like this can only add to openness and transparency which are all the rage in 2011.

wiK Note: This post is a work in progress and wiK invites any and all corrections from anyone who was at the meeting (you know who you are). Refs: Royal Mail Puts Agencies On Alert As It Shakes Up £2m PR Budget, Profile: Richard Stephenson, Group Director Of PR, Royal Mail Group

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