Royal Mail’s long distance treatment of island mail was parliamentary issue in 2001

What the Royal mail is up to in actively preventing local-to-local mail on the Scottish islands being sorted, franked and delivered on the island concerned – the only possible way that next day delivery is achievable regardless of what you pay for it – is not a new issue.

Back in 2001, fourteen years ago, the very same nonsense was evidenced in oral submissions during a House of Commons debate on Sub-Post Offices, a debate granted to David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome in Somerset.

While the core issue of the debate was the massive scale of proposed closures of sub-post offices at that time –  and matters around the finances of sub posts offices, the issue of needlessly protracted delivery of local mail on islands, inflicted by blind bureaucracy, was riased by Argyll and Bute’s then brand new MP, Liberal Democrat, Alan Reid.

Mr Reid, speaking in the debate, said:

‘Post offices, as previous speakers have said, are an integral part of our rural communities. I echo the comment made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) about how long it takes for a letter posted in a remote rural village to get to a house in the same village. It may take several days to arrive. We need to go back to the days of the GPO, when the delivery and collection part of the business and the counters part were integrated. I do not see why a letter posted in a remote village for delivery in the same village or in another village a few miles up the road must be taken hundreds of miles to a big city to be sorted and sent back. Why cannot mail posted on an island, for example, be taken to a local sub-post office on the island and sorted into two batches—one for delivery on the island and the other for the mainland? The mail posted on the island for delivery on the island could be delivered the next day instead of in three or four days, as at present.

‘I give an example from Ross of Mull, a part of the country that the Minister knows well. If a letter is posted in Fionnphort with a first-class stamp to go to Bunessan, which is only a few miles up the road, the letter is put in the post office van and driven through Bunessan, possibly past the very house to which it is to be delivered. It is taken to the ferry at Craignure and crosses to Oban, whence it is carried 100 or so miles to Glasgow where it is sorted before it does the return journey to be delivered in Bunessan. Even with a first-class stamp, that takes three days. Many local businesses have important business to be transacted and legal requirements for mail to be delivered the next day. Why cannot the mail posted in Fionnphort be taken to the local sub-post office and sorted, and that which has been mailed for elsewhere on Mull collected separately and delivered the next day on Mull?’

Compare this with our Tiree reader’s description, published here yesterday, 9th September 2015, of what is happening today to local-to-local mail on that island – four hours out in the Atlantic.

The sad thing is that, from the same Tiree resident’s account,  at some time following Mr Reid’s parliamentary raising of the issue – until today – there has been in place a sensible, efficient and much appreciated system seeing in-island mail sorted, franked and delivered locally, with only outward directed mail sent to Glasgow.

At the time of this debate, the then MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Labour’s Douglas Alexander, had just become Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness, responsible for Post Offices.

In his reply, Mr Alexander – who had the entire spectrum of issues on Sub-Post Offices to respond to – said this about the local-to-local island mail issue raised by Alan Reid:

‘The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute [Mr. Reid] is new to the House, but has clearly already learned how to grab the attention of the Minister responsible for postal services. I know very well the area that he mentioned. Indeed, I have experience of the postal service in the Ross of Mull, having received both my O-grade and highers results in that locality—that was in the days when highers results turned up. I will raise his concern with the Consignia management with great pleasure and take forward his specific point on postal services on the Isle of Mull.’

We note that the Minister’s reply spent far longer talking about himself than about the issue and then, through imperfect attention,  misunderstood the scale of the issue MR Reid was raising, seeing it  – and responding to it – as confined to the Isle of Mull where Mr Reid had clearly said: ‘I give an example from Ross of Mull’.

Note: Here is the Hansard record of the House of Commons debate on 7th November 2001 debate on Sub Post Offices. Alan Reid MP spoke at 10.42 and Douglas Alexander MP at 12.17.


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