Five questions answered on the plans to sell Royal Mail

How have the workers reacted? What about the Post Office?

Today, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that the government will sell Royal Mail. We answer five questions on this latest decision.

How will Royal Mail be sold?

The government will sell off shares in Royal Mail through flotation on the stock market. Employees will also be given 10 per cent shares in the business, which Cable described as "the biggest employee share scheme for nearly 30 years".

It is thought the sale will value the business at £2-3bn.

What has been the reaction to this news?

Mixed. Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are opposed to the privatisation and have even threatened strike action. 

Workers are said to be deeply suspicious of the idea of a share scheme, according to the CWU, which represents about two thirds of the 150,000 workforce.

Business Minister Michael Fallon, writing in The Daily Telegraph, has said that now is the right time to sell Royal Mail.

Chuka Umunna MP, Labour's shadow business secretary, has said the government is opting for privatisation to "dig the Chancellor, George Osborne, out of a hole of his own making".

What else has Cable said?

"The Government’s decision is a practical, legal and commercial decision to put Royal Mail’s future on a sustainable basis," Mr Cable told MPs.

 "Now the time has come for government to step back and allow management to focus wholeheartedly on the business. This government will give Royal Mail the real commercial freedom it's needed for a long time.

"It cannot be right for Royal Mail to come cap in hand to ministers each time it wants to invest and innovate. The public will always want government to invest in schools and hospitals ahead of Royal Mail."

How well is the Royal Mail currently doing?

The postal service is currently undergoing a facelift, which involves focusing more on parcels and less on letters.

A boom in parcel delivery, largely due to internet shopping, helped Royal Mail more than double its profits last year after years of losses.

Does the sale include the Post Office?

No. The post office is a separate company to Royal Mail. The Post Office is the national network of branches that offer postal, governmental and financial services. Whereas Royal Mail sorts and delivers letters and parcels.

Royal Mail vans pictured parked at a Post Office depot in east London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war