What Went Wrong at Royal Mail?


Jasmine Moulton’s children, Harper and Joshua, have complex medical conditions requiring regular hospital visits. However, the family has been missing appointments due to late or non-arriving letters from the NHS Trusts. In January, Jasmine was informed that her children had missed several appointments, including a surgery for Joshua. She expressed shock and frustration, as they had not received any post about these appointments.

Royal Mail apologized for the failure of the NHS letters to arrive, calling it “not acceptable”. The company is facing issues with delivery, as evidenced by the decrease in on-time delivery of first-class post from 92% ten years ago to 74% at the end of last year. In some areas, more than a third of all first-class post was late between June and September 2023. Consequently, Royal Mail was fined £5.6m by Ofcom in November for failing to meet its targets.

Under the Universal Service Obligation, Royal Mail is legally required to deliver letters six days a week and parcels five days a week to every UK address. However, former and current Royal Mail employees revealed to BBC Panorama that letters have occasionally been left behind in sorting offices while parcels and tracked items are prioritized for delivery.

A former Royal Mail area manager stated that due to staff shortages, he had instructed postal staff to leave letters behind for weeks at a time. He claimed that senior management was aware of this issue as data on what is and isn’t being delivered is collected daily from every delivery office and sent up the management chain.

Royal Mail acknowledged that it is their responsibility to ensure every letter and parcel is delivered on time. They admitted that during certain times of the year or during resourcing issues, parcels are moved first out of logistical necessity. However, they insisted that this should not be a regular occurrence.

Ofcom’s investigation into the issue of parcel prioritization last year found no evidence of an organization-wide policy directed by Royal Mail’s senior management to prioritize parcels over letters. However, it expressed concern over the lack of control, visibility, and oversight by senior management over decision-making at delivery offices.

Royal Mail, which reported a loss of £419m last year, could save hundreds of millions of pounds if the obligation to deliver letters six days a week were reduced or if it were allowed more time to deliver letters. Ofcom has recently proposed options for changes to the service and is seeking public debate on the matter. Despite the challenges, many people view Royal Mail as a vital public service.

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