Subpostmasters knock sell off plans


Royal Mail

Controversial plans to privatise the Royal Mail has come under fresh attack after subpostmasters were urged to refuse to stock information on how the public can buy shares.

The National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) attacked a bid by the Post Office to ask its members to promote the sell off.

The normally moderate federation said the Post Office was set to contact several thousand post offices in the coming days requesting they stock materials for the public on how to buy Royal Mail shares.

The federation urged its members to reject the call, pointing out that a privatised Royal Mail could be "catastrophic" for the post office network.
The NFSP has joined other groups in calling for a halt to the privatisation plans, warning that the government has failed to deliver a secure future for the UK's post offices.

A third of all income earned by subpostmasters comes from sales of Royal Mail products and the NFSP predicts "mass" post office closures if that income is jeopardised.

NFSP General Secretary George Thomson said: "I am surprised and angered by POL's request for subpostmasters to act against their own interests by encouraging the public to back the sale by buying shares.

"Subpostmasters are acutely aware that ministers are taking a reckless gamble with the future of our post offices by selling off Royal Mail.

"The government has completely failed to fulfill its pledge to make post offices the 'front office for government', offering face-to-face access to a wide range of central and local government services.

"Instead, the reality is that subpostmasters are now earning less from government services than they were three years ago, and as a result are more dependent than ever on income from Royal Mail services.

"That is why we have called on our members to reject this request, and not to touch the promotion of this privatisation with a barge pole."

The Communication Workers Union is threatening to hold a strike ballot among its members at the Royal Mail unless a deal is reached soon on pay, pensions and other issues linked to privatisation.

A ballot will be held before the end of September if the union decides to press ahead.

A Business Department spokesman said: "As part of a Royal Mail share sale, members of the public will be able to apply for shares in a number of ways, including through stockbrokers and direct from the Government. We are in preliminary discussions with Post Office Ltd about making printed material for the share sale available to the public through some post offices.

"The Government is fully committed to modernising the Post Office network and to safeguarding its future."

A Royal Mail spokesman added: "Royal Mail aims to combine the best of the public and private sectors. Access to the capital markets will allow us to be more nimble to seize the opportunities available to us.

"Post Office Ltd's plan is that its major investment and modernisation programme will see half of the UK branch network modernised by 2015."

A Post Office spokesman said: "No decisions on this issue have been made."

Royal Mail said its senior executives' pension plan had a "significant" deficit and the company was legally obliged to make payments into it.

The Sunday Times said Royal Mail has set aside £90 million for the scheme while it was asking other employees to accept reduced benefits.

Pensions is one of the issues which could trigger a strike ballot among over 115,000 CWU members soon.

The company said in a statement: "The Royal Mail Senior Executives Pension Plan closed to new members in 2008. It closed to existing members in 2012. It was not included in the pension transfer to Government in April 2012.

"Based on the most recent actuarial valuation, RMSEPP had a significant deficit and the company is legally-obliged to make payments towards it.

"The company has a proposal to keep its main plan, the Royal Mail Pension Plan, open to future accrual, subject to certain conditions, without increasing members' contributions, retirement age or rate of accrual.

"Royal Mail will continue to make significant ongoing contributions of approximately £400 million a year to the Plan. RMPP members' benefits up to 31 March 2012 are backed by Government and the plan was fully funded on an actuarial basis at the time of the pension transfer."

© 2013 Press Association