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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear