The Postman

“The Royal Mail is being slashed back, and it breaks this old postie's heart"

For the Royal Mail, 2010 was a year of unprecedented change. Hardly a week went by without some innovation in our working practices. We have seen the introduction of walk-sequencing machines, which sort out mail into the sequence in which it will be delivered, in most urban offices. They are phenomenal machines. But unfortunately for you, our customers, they slow down the process of work, forcing us to deliver mail ever later in the day.

We used to start work at 5am. Now, we start at 7.15am. We used to be out on the streets by 7am. Now, we're lucky to get out before 11am. We used to get the mail to you in time for your breakfast. Now, you will be lucky if it gets to you in time for your tea.

What's behind all this? In October last year, Vince Cable announced his plans for privatising the Royal Mail, citing falling mail volumes, the £8.4bn pension deficit, lack of efficiency and the need for an injection of private capital to fund a modernisation programme. The service is being slashed back so that it will be more attractive to a potential buyer.

But the Royal Mail was - and is - a profitable company. Those profits are reaped by the state, as the government is its only shareholder. Profits in 2009/2010 rose by 26 per cent to £404m. That's over a million pounds a day.

The Royal Mail is in the rare position of being both a public service and a profitable business. It serves the corporate sector and the public at the same time. It delivers your Christmas cards and birthday cards from one end of the country to the other - from the Scilly Isles to the Outer Hebrides - at a single price, while delivering phone bills, utility bills, bank statements, magazines, brochures and advertising leaflets for the corporations. Some of our work is highly profitable, while other parts make a loss. The one is used to supplement the other.

This is something that no private company would be willing to do. That is why, if the planned sell-off goes ahead, this year will be even more traumatic than the last. Not only has the company announced that hundreds of local delivery offices will be closed - forcing postal workers into large urban units and, moreover, forcing you to drive miles to pick up your undelivered parcels - but it has also begun to implement a new delivery method, known as "park and loop".

This involves the scrapping of our bikes in favour of small vans: two postal workers per van, doing two extended rounds between them. The "loop" part of the procedure is done on foot, which takes longer than on a bike. Also, the company has used the restructuring process to smuggle in a vast increase in our workload. Not only is park and loop slower, we have more to deliver. Everywhere the method has been trialled, it has proved a disaster, with huge backlogs of mail building up. Millions of items went undelivered this Christmas. The company blames the weather but we know that it was mainly park and loop.

The Royal Mail - previously the General Post Office - has been a publicly owned company since it was created by Charles II in 1660. But we could soon see its 350 years of public service brought to an end. And that, I can honestly tell you, breaks this old postie's heart.

The writer, who goes by the pseudonym Roy Mayall, is a postman in the south-east of England. He is the author of "Dear Granny Smith" (Short Books, £4.99)

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, State of Emergency