Royal Mail referred to regulator over service outages in ‘troubled times’
A committee of MPs has referred Royal Mail to regulator Ofcom for breaching its obligation to deliver letters six days a week across the country.
In a sharply worded report, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said the company had “systematically failed” to meet what it called the universal service obligation.
The committee also said Royal Mail chief executive Simon Thompson was “not entirely accurate” in the answers he gave to MPs on the use of technology to track and discipline workers.
“Royal Mail denied having knowledge of the tracing of postal workers using technology and said evidence of the practice and of managers disciplining postal workers with such data was due to non-compliance with Royal Mail’s policies,” the committee said .
MPs said they “didn’t think such widespread mistakes could happen without direct or indirect approval from management”.
MPs called on Royal Mail’s board to investigate the company’s management for “negligence” if they were unaware of the practices.
The report asked the Information Commissioner to examine the legal basis for the collection and use of this data.
The committee said Royal Mail had “systematically failed to deliver parts of its USO” and cited “widespread evidence that the company gives priority to letters over parcels”.
MPs called on the postal services regulator, Ofcom, to launch an enforcement inquiry into Royal Mail’s USO delivery, deal with postal workers and report back by the end of the year.
Committee chairman Darren Jones said: “I find it hard to believe that such widespread breaches of company policy and legal obligations can be traced back to a national network of rogue workers conspiring against Royal Mail management.
“We have been inundated with evidence from postal workers questioning the accuracy of the answers given by Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson.
“Frankly, the failures in company policy that Mr Thompson has admitted can only be due to an unacceptable level of incompetence or an unacceptable level of ignorance of what is happening at Royal Mail.
“Hidden behind the pandemic as a driver of failure at Royal Mail is not going to do it.
“Ofcom needs to start enforcement procedures to ensure everyone, everywhere, gets a consistent service. Otherwise, what is the point of having a universal service obligation anyway?”
The committee said Royal Mail was going through “troubled times”, adding: “Last year it reported that it was losing £1million a day, it is in the midst of a bitter industrial dispute with its workforce and we believe Royal Mail is does not meet some of its legal requirements under the USO.
“When we raised these issues with Royal Mail management our concerns did not go away, in fact they increased.
“Some of what the CEO said during the oral evidence session provoked a huge backlash from postal workers, who went directly to the committee, claiming that the committee had been misled.
“We have therefore taken the very unusual step of recalling Royal Mail to clarify or correct the public records.”
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Royal Mail prides itself on providing universal service and our policy is clear that parcels and letters should be treated with equal importance.
“We have informed the committee that we will review the consistent application of our letter and parcel delivery policies across the business.
“We will share our findings with the committee and Ofcom. We have asked the Committee to share the material received and reiterate our request that they do so as soon as possible so that they can contribute to this review.
“Royal Mail provided detailed answers to questions – in person and in writing – raised by the committee about the company’s performance, finances and service delivery.
“We reject the suggestion that Royal Mail may have misled the BEIS Select Committee in this process.”
Communication Workers Union General Secretary Dave Ward said: “The report validates why the workforce has lost absolute confidence in CEO Simon Thompson and his senior leadership.
“Their mantra ‘Our Business to Run’ has seen a vicious and unprecedented level of attacks on postal workers and the services they provide.
“The targeted shutdown of the universal service obligation has worsened, not improved, since the Select Committee.
“Although the board has now intervened in the dispute and talks are continuing with the board being directly involved, the stark reality is that if we reach an agreement there is no prospect of taking the workforce with us unless there is a change hiring and staffing within the board of directors of the company.”