The problems with paring down the Royal Mail

Picture of Royal Mail LDV van on a slip roadEarlier this week I heard on the news that the Royal Mail were closing down two of their big London sorting depots, namely Bow and Nine Elms. I’ve worked at Nine Elms and it was a pretty busy place back in 2002, although I haven’t had any work out of them since (perhaps because I’ve not worked for the right agencies, perhaps because the work has ran down). I used to drive trucks which were full of roll-cages of mail to the various local depots in south-west London, Twickenham and Kingston and didn’t have the sense that the place was in decline. The plan is to transfer work to Mount Pleasant in Clerkenwell, which is in the Congestion Charge zone in the northern part of central London, and to outer London mail centres in Greenford, Feltham, Romford and Croydon.

The Royal Mail is a heavily unionised organisation; they have stiff competition not only from the Internet, which makes the sending of an awful lot of letters simply unnecessary, but from the courier companies which seem to use an awful lot of casual labour, which frequently includes me. I worked for two of them this past week, in fact, delivering parcels to villages outside Guildford on Monday and Tuesday and offloading parcels from trailers in another big depot early on Friday morning (something I hope I don’t have to do too often). I got the impression, in that last job, that health and safety isn’t taken altogether seriously and frequently found myself dodging flying and falling parcels.

The courier companies rely on drivers with sat-navs, and commonly print address labels themselves rather than letting the customer address their own mail. This particular company prints labels which give a broad post town rather than the actual village the address is in, so an address in Worplesdon or Puttenham (both GU3 postcodes) is frequently given as Guildford, when in fact they are well outside Guildford. My A-to-Z atlas has the actual villages in the index, but not the postcodes, so looking up an address in GU3 is next to impossible as I don’t know what village the place is in. Worse, in rural areas they don’t use the “door number, street name, postcode” system, relying on house names, so we have to put the postcode into the sat-nav which takes us to a particular stretch of road. Well, if the street is a narrow, busy main road, we have to drive at 10mph while looking at the house names (not always prominently or legibly displayed) rather than at the road, and if we don’t see it, there is no place to turn round.

My local knowledge of the villages round Guildford is pretty limited, as I’ve never lived there and haven’t been able to walk the round to know where the houses are, which you do if you’re actually a postman. A courier company will get something through if it’s an easy delivery, preferably in an urban area. If your parcel is addressed to someone in a rural area and goes to a courier company’s depot on a day when the regular driver is off sick, the chances are they will send a driver from well outside the area to look for a needle in a haystack, and several relief drivers may fail to find it, resulting in a delay of several days. If you’ve got a parcel to send, it may well be better to send it by the Royal Mail, as the guy delivering it is much more likely to know where he’s going and won’t be a casual van driver as they don’t get postmen on a day-to-day basis from agencies. (Or at least, it’s not work I’ve ever been offered in ten years of agency work.)

(Image courtesy of FreeFoto.)

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