Edinburgh MPs visit Waverley Station in campaign against East Coast privatisation

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  • Sheila Gilmore, Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray speak to passengers and East Coast staff
  • MPs joined by members of the public, trade unionists and Councillors

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Edinburgh Labour MPs Sheila Gilmore, Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray today continued their campaign against the privatisation of East Coast with a visit to Waverley Station.

 While handing out leaflets and speaking to passengers outside the station, the group were joined by members of the public, trade unionists and Councillors, including newly elected Liberton/Gilmerton Councillor Keith Robson. Afterwards the MPs were shown East Coast’s operation at Waverley, where they got the opportunity to speak to East Coast staff about the improvements that have been delivered in recent years.

 Speaking afterwards, Ian Murray said:

 ‘The East Coast line has performed much better in the public sector than being privately operated. It has returned resources to the public purse and that progress is best continued in public ownership. Travellers and the tax payer deserve nothing less.’

Sheila Gilmore said:

 ‘It was good to talk to East Coast staff about the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last four years. When speaking to passengers I also emphasised that at present all profits are retained for public benefit, rather than lost to shareholders.’

 ‘The decision to privatise East Coast puts this at risk and shows that David Cameron and his Ministers put ideology before the needs of passengers and taxpayers.’

 Mark Lazarowicz said:

 ‘East Coast has achieved success under public operation, receiving less subsidy than any of the other 18 private franchises and paying back more to the taxpayer than all but one.’

 ‘It has done that with no certainty about how long it would continue to remain in public hands. Ministers should now drop their plans for privatisation to give East Coast stability so it can plan for for the future.’

Rock the House!

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Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray joined local Liberton resident, Daniel Scott, in celebrating his success in Parliament’s biggest competition, Rock the House 2013.  Rock the House was set up to raise awareness of intellectual property theft and live music issues in Parliament through a nationwide competition to find the best solo act, band, venue and music video UK talent has to offer.  Ian Murray nominated Daniel for the under 19 solo category and despite hundreds of entries Daniel was named as a finalists having got down to the final three. photo (3)

 

The competition received over 1000 entries covering over 430 MP constituencies.  MP’s selected their favourite act from each category and the finalists were selected from a judging panel made of international music industry experts.

 

On being selected for the live final, Daniel Scott said: “Being picked for this competition was very unexpected and overwhelming.  It’s really exciting for me as a budding musician to have an opportunity like this to showcase myself, especially with the prize of playing live at the Houses of Parliament.  Also going to the historic Abbey Road Studio as part of the finals was a real treat.”

 

Ian Murray said: “As soon as I heard Daniel’s demo I had no hesitation in nominating him for the solo under 19s award.  Daniel is a very talented singer and musician and he should be very proud of his achievement in reaching the final of a nationwide competition like Rock the House.  Hopefully this opportunity will give his music greater exposure and I’m sure this will not be the last we hear of him. He may even teach me how to play the guitar?”

Post Office Statement

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STATEMENT – Jo Swinson – Post Office – Horizon System 

 

Can I thank the Minister for advance copy of her statement and for coming to the House today to make the statement.

Mr Speaker, this is a very disturbing affair.  At a time when subpostmanters incomes are being squeezed, the last thing that they need is to lose confidence in the system they use to operate their businesses.

 

The people who work in the post office network across the country are the lifeblood of our communities and they must be supported in every way possible.  But it is becoming an extraordinarlily difficult task

A recent National Federation fo sub postmasters survey found that operating costs are rising, while personal drawings (the money subpostmasters take as salary) have fallen by 36% in four years. One in four subpostmasters take no salary from their Post Office income.

Most sub postmasters are earning little or no income from either financial or government services – the two areas which ministers identify as having “real growth potential” for post offices.

That’s what makes these revelations all the more worrying.

 

I welcome the steps that have been taken by Post Office Ltd in investigating the concerns raised by the Justice for Sub postmasters Alliance – who were established to demonstrate that the Horizon system was causing sub postmasters difficulty and causing hardship and, in some cases, them to lose their businesses and homes.  Their website has case after case of sub postmasters who had done nothing wrong but alleged defects in the system had resulted in problems with cash reconciliation and processing of payments.

 

The BBC is reporting this morning that the Post Office have admitted to these software defects in the Horizon system but the Post office Ltd press release would have you think this was a mere training problem.  Second Sight, the independent company employed by the post Office to investigate these issues, said that whilst there was no fundamental problem with horizon there were bugs in the system that resulted in them identifying defects which resulted in a shortfall of up to £9000 at 76 branches.

 

The Post Office does recognise however, that the report raises questions about the training and support being offered to some sub-postmasters.  This raises questions about the current Network transformation programme.  These concerns have been consistently raised by this side of the House and the BiS Select Committee in their report last year where it was identified that the move to a “locals” model could result in fewer fully trained serving staff using the Horizon system at the point of sale.

 

If the post office services are merely being adminstered from the front counter of a newsagent or shop can we guarantee that the servers will be fully trained to ensure that these issues do not ariseint he future?  This is a question that the minister has not addressed.

 

The National Federation of Sub Postamansters has also raised this issue.  They have responded today by welcoming the POL report but also said, “We are encouraged to see that Post Office Ltd (POL) concedes that there is scope for improvement in its training and support programmes – issues which the NFSP has raised repeatedly with POL.”

 

This is all at a time when Crown Post Office staff are in industrial action, the transformation programme is struggling to be delivered, sub postmasters income is dropping, there is a dispute with Royal Mail on the segregation of mail payments, the future of the interbusiness agreement is unclear due to Royal Mail privatisation and  POL Ltd senior management awarded themselves bonuses of over £15m.

 

Can I ask the Minister a series of questions:-

 

  1. What process will be put in place to compensate sub postmasters and former sub postmasters who have been disadvantaged, fined, lost their businesses, homes or even jailed as a result of the problems with the Horizon system?
  2. Post Office Ltd has said it would set-up a working group to investigate further.  Will the Government be represented on that group?
  3. How will she ensure that all staff are adequately trained in the transfer to a locals model?
  4. Can she confirm that there are talks ongoing to change the voluntary “locals” network transformation model to a compulsory model?

 

 

Zero Hours Contracts: Westminster Hall Debate

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Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Dorries—no doubt there will be many more times to come. I pass on my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), whose speech was fantastic. Not only today, but every day that she has been in Parliament she has been championing the rights of people on zero-hours contracts, and it is important for her to have led today’s debate.

Although a small number of people use and like the contracts, we have heard, from all Opposition Members, about people who have gone to their constituency surgeries with examples of where the contracts are not appropriate. It is a shame that we cannot take a vote today, because we might win it, given who is here this afternoon. Of course, the aim of a zero-hours contract is to deflect from giving anyone pay; it is not just about hours. When an employer is looking at putting together a zero-hours contract, it cannot only be about the work available. It must be about reducing the wage bill and ensuring that there is no pay.

Nia Griffith: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is sometimes an irony in the use of agency workers, whereby the workers get paid very little and are second-class citizens, compared with the permanent employees, but, in fact, the firm gets ripped off because of the agency fees?

Ian Murray: That is a good point. We should have another Westminster Hall debate on the agency issue, in terms of how that all fits together. It is not only about zero-hours contracts, as there is a tapestry of problems in the employment industry that are worth looking at.

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Many hon. Members—including my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who always speaks very passionately about such issues—have said that people get no pay and no hours. People sometimes go to great expense to turn up at work. They arrange child care and sometimes they do not even get a call to say they have got hours—actually, sometimes they do not even get a call. I have a screen grab here from someone’s iPhone, where a message says, “You’re not needed today.” That is all it says. It was sent at 12.40 in the afternoon, so they sometimes do not even get a call from their employer to say they are not required.

Many Members have spoken about the increasing numbers of contracts, so I will not run over that again. However, I would like to concentrate on the law behind the issue. A body of law sets out what someone is classified as when they are at work. They are either an employee, a worker, or self-employed. We shall set aside the fourth, new category of someone who is an employee shareholder, as that is a different debate altogether. If we look at those three categories, it is clear what someone who is self-employed is. There is a whole body of case law about what the definitions of an employee and a worker are. Many would argue that someone on a zero-hours contract is, in fact, a worker, but that worker needs to have some kind of mutuality of obligation, and there cannot be a mutuality of obligation if the worker has to turn up for work at their expense, but the employer has no need to give them any hours. That does not seem to me to be any sort of mutuality.

Andy Sawford: I agree that the important point about an employment contract is that there must be a mutuality of obligation, but the contract also must impose an obligation on a person to provide work. Therefore, I cannot understand why it is not unlawful as it stands, in the current body of law.

Ian Murray: There is an argument about whether zero-hours contracts are currently unlawful, but mutuality of obligation is case-law terminology and is therefore not written in statute. That is how, over many years, the case law has built up about the definition of employment tribunals, in terms of whether someone is in work or, indeed, whether they are a worker, an employee or self-employed. So there is a definition. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck has said that what we are talking about is not a job. It perhaps is not a job. It cannot be right for people to be in this situation and not end up with any hours.

Let us consider some of the damaging effects. For staff, zero-hours contracts have huge drawbacks compared with permanent regular work. There is no guaranteed level of regular earnings that provides any certainty with regard to meeting bills, meeting rent or planning for the future. The need to respond to calls to attend work, frequently at short notice, disrupts life outside work and places a particular strain on families in terms of arranging care for dependants. The Government have put a heavy emphasis on being family-friendly, but we have yet to see any evidence of that. Zero-hours contracts fly in the face of the flexible working legislation that the Minister, to be fair to her, has pushed through and championed in government. They slightly contradict that aspect of employment.

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There is a detriment to business as well. That is why I cannot see why business wants to use zero-hours contracts, particularly in some of the areas that have been spoken about. There must be reputational damage to employers who use these contracts. There must be an inability to attract and to retain high-quality staff. There is undoubtedly a direct correlation between continuity and the quality of the services involved. Some hon. Members have spoken clearly about health and social care and how continuity and quality of services are significantly affected. A loss of training and skills development tends to accompany zero-hours contracts, particularly if people have to pay for their own training, which is a huge issue with these contracts.

There is an overarching ethos and ideology. The Government have a one-track mind on this issue. They look at regulation and employment law as a burden on business. We have seen that with the Beecroft report. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck used the phrase “Beecroft by the back door”—we have copyrighted that now. This is Beecroft by the back door. There are all these ideological moves, in terms of the legislative programme that the Government are pushing through at the moment, that are simply an attack on workers’ rights and the ability of people to earn a living. Their central argument about removing workers’ rights in order to encourage businesses to grow surely cannot be right. It flies in the face of the evidence. Let us say that we accept that the Government have created 750,000 private sector jobs in the past two years as a fact, whether it is challengeable or not. Those jobs have been created under the current framework of employment rights, so that flies in the face of what they are saying.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I apologise to fellow hon. Members for not being able to be here at the start of the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that good regulation could protect employers who do not want to see this sort of practice? It could prevent a race to the bottom, which is what I think we are seeing in the care sector.

Ian Murray: That is a valuable intervention because that is what many employers are telling us and what many business organisations are saying: when we undermine workers’ rights, we are undermining as well the businesses that are looking after their staff. I ran my own business before coming into this place. Any business person—any person running a good business—gets up every morning of every day and wants to look after their staff; they know that their staff are their greatest asset. There is a danger here for the Government, and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the Minister’s predecessor, said this quite clearly in a newspaper. Admittedly, it was six weeks before he got the job as the Minister responsible for employee relations, but he said that there was a real danger of undermining job security, which undermines consumer confidence, which sets us up in a spiral of economic decline.

Let me pick up some of the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central raised. She referred to the disproportionate effect on women. Clearly, we have to look at that. The explosion in the number of zero-hours contracts has had a disproportionate effect

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on women, and that is probably because of some of the sectors in which we have seen this, such as the care sector and the hospitality sector. These are industries with high percentages of female employees. It is difficult to know whether it is a response to demand for flexible hours, better enabling female professionals to return to work after maternity leave, but it cannot be viewed as a positive trend at a time when equality in the work force is becoming more vital than ever. The Government have to consider whether what is happening is consistent with some of the other policies that I have mentioned in relation to flexible working.

There is also the issue of tax credits. The Government have been very clear about resolving some of the issues in relation to welfare. Their view was that the tax credits bill was too high, but the tax credits system was put in place to ensure that work paid, so again the reality flies in the face of some of the rhetoric and ideology. How exactly does the working tax credit issue interact with some of these zero-hours contracts? How often should HMRC update its system for someone who is on a zero-hours contract? Must they be on a zero-hours contract for a certain number of months? What happens when they get an injection of hours at the last minute? How is all that put together? There are also issues in relation to Jobcentre Plus. If someone is on a zero-hours contract and by law they are neither an employee nor a worker, are they actually in employment; can they claim jobseeker’s allowance? All those issues must be dealt with.

We have heard about the number of staff in this place who are on zero-hours contracts. A press release was issued this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan). He said that 155 staff in this place were on zero-hours contracts. There are a number of case studies. This issue does not just involve the hospitality or care sectors. Edinburgh university, in my own constituency, has recently done an analysis that shows that 47% of lecturers in the college of humanities and social science are on zero-hours contracts, so there is a real problem there. I know that the University and College Union is taking it up with the university of Edinburgh.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the NHS, so I will not cause delay by making further comments on that, but may I turn to the Government’s recently announced review of zero-hours contracts? The announcement that the Secretary of State and the Minister were to look at this issue was very much welcomed. We must congratulate the Minister on at least going that far, but we need to know whether the Government will issue a call for evidence. Many trade unions have done so much work on this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) mentioned USDAW. It has done a tremendous amount of work on pushing this issue forward. The Government really have to issue a call for evidence. I believe that their review involves only three officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so it would be good to issue a call for evidence.

Will the review consider the issues in relation to tax credits? Will it consider specifically the interaction of zero-hours contracts with young people and women in particular? The Minister may not be aware, but there was unanimous agreement from panellists at the Work Foundation’s recent conference on this topic that the

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review, in its current form, was too lightweight and would not provide the Government with the hard data that they needed to reform the system. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

You have heard from Labour Members, Ms Dorries, the real concerns about zero-hours contracts and the impacts that they have on family life, on income and on people’s ability to plan their daily lives. This is simply an issue of fairness. It cannot be right to demand that someone travels to their place of work and then tell them that they do not have any work. I will be very interested to see whether the Minister will put together a body of work that looks at the mutuality of obligation and whether this is a case in which someone is not an employee, a worker or self-employed and therefore is deemed to be unemployed.

 

Royal Mail: Westminster Hall Debate

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Can I firstly pay tribute to the Hon Lady for North Ayrshire and Arran.  She has laid out a compelling case for keeping the Royal Mail in the public sector and I hope the Minister will consider carefully what she has laid out.

Can I apsl pay tribute to the staff of RM. They have worked tirelesley alongside management to make the Royal Mail a leaner and fitter modern company and the recent results of an annual profit of £324m is testament to that hard work at steely determination to keep the post public.

Mr speaker, the Royal Mail is a cherished institution:

  • It has a universal service obligation that covers all parts of the UK.
  • It does so for 1 uniform price
  • It dates back to 1516 and is an integral part of British life
  • It touches all of us whether it be the birthday or Christmas card, the letter from a friend or the statement from your bank.  It even delivers those pesky bills.
  • It is the last publically owned institution and we think it should tay that way.

But it does have challenges:

  • Letter volumes are falling fast as we all turn to electronic communications
  • It still has some way to go to complete the modernisation programme
  • Its profits are growing at the moment but that growth may be fragile.
  • There is the potential for industrial action following the survey of CWU members last week.
  • The maintance of the USO is expensive,
  • The position of Royal Mail is under threat by other companies cherry picking lucrative geographical areas whilst RM have to maintain the USO.
  • Other operators have much lower service requirements than the RM

But the landscape has changed since the Hooper Report 2008 and I wish to lay out the changes:

  1. The £28bn of pension fund assets have been transferred to the Treasury and the long term liabilities that go with this (interesting how the Chancellor used this money to make his budget look better last year) – we have put these liabilities on the public purse but the Governent want to privatise the profits.
  2. The regulatory environment has improved following the transfer of responsibility to OFCOMM
  3. Industrial relations have improved with the appointment of Moya Green as the CEO and let me take this opportunity to praise the work she has done int his area alongside the trade unions
  4. Modernisation has continued apace with real improvements in the profitability of the company
  5. The explosion of the parcel business has made up for the loss of letter traffic.

This is a much changed environment from the Hooper days.

So why privatise now when the changes since Hopper are bedding in and the company is going in the right direction?

 

Well, let me tell you why.  The chancellor has an utterly failing economic plan that requires a significant injection of cash and he will get some of this through the fire sale of Royal Mail.  Work programmes have been brought forward and £30m is to be spent getting this sale concluded as quickly as possible.

 

Let be quite clear, this has nothing to do with postal services or the impact on the public but is to save the blushes of this chancellor.

And, this policy of sale in the Postal Services Act is opposed by a wide range of orgnanisations, businesses:

Who is against it

-       Well, the late PM Thatcher, the architect of privatisation said it would be a step too far and would always fear to tread..

-       More recently, the right wing think tank, the Bow Group said “It is likely to be hugely unpopular, prices will rise at a time when people cannot afford it, an amenity that many communities consider crucial will be removed, it will undermine the heritage of Royal Mail. The privatisation of Royal Mail is likely to move swifty from a poisonous legacy for the Government now, to a poisonous legacy for the Conservative Party going forward” _ i would include the Liberals in this also.

-       The Lib Dems, although they have voted every step of the way to privatise it.  Even the DPM?

-       The CWU – consultative ballot last week showed 96% against privatisation.

-       And before the Minsiter jumps to his feet, UNITEm, who represent many in management and senior management said they were becoming increasingly concerned about the implications for the public, pensioners, small businesses.”

-       The cross party BiS Select committee, including prominent government backbenchers.

-       National Federation of Sub postmasters initially back the Postal Services Bill but now say that the privatisation of Royal Mail could do irreversible harm to the Post Office Network as promised Government contracts have not come through.  They are right to express concern as to the 10 year inter business agreement and the £360m that supports the PO from RM business.  What happens during or after this period?

-       And of course, who else is against it – well, the Minister himself PICK UP LETTER – he says he has changed his mind as 10% of the shares will go to staff. Well 96% of the staff say you are wrong despite this hollow promise.  And the hand brake turn has been so pronounced that the Minister decided that he would try and win them over by threatening the Royal Mail staff that if did not support this he would sell it off to foreign investors without any shares.

Why

Price – the money will not go to RM but to the Treasury

Not a level playing field – service standards

USO – end to end.  Yes, the regulator has the power to protect the USO but at what point.  Private operators come in and cherry pick the profitable parts of the Royal Mail leaving it with less ability to make profit in some areas whilst having to maintain the USO.  That surely makes the USo more expensive and, therefore makes it less likely to be maintained.

What about a Royal Mail that starts to fail becuae of this.  We have witnessed it recently with the East Coast mainline.  GNER failed, National Express handed back the keys and who picked up the bill – the tax payer.  There is no safert net if all this goes wrong and the USO collapses.  The taxpayer will pick up the bill alongside the pension deficit.

Finish with some questions to the Minsiter:

  1. Does he have a plan B if an IPO is not possible?
  2. Will he sell it into foreign ownership as he threatened the staff with?
  3. Will a privatised Royal Mail still be covered by the FOI Act?
  4. Will the RM still get its excepmtion on VAT?

That’s why, Mr Speaker, the case for the status quo, with the Royal Mail as a public service, is as strong as ever.

Westminster Hall Debate: Royal Mail in a separate Scotland

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Westminster Hall Debate

Royal Mail in a separate Scotland Speech

10 July 2013

                                                                                               

 

Introduction

Chair, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today in what is just one aspect of the most important debate that faces the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in a generation.

I am delighted that my Hon. Friend has been able to secure this long overdue debate.  It has only taken five months to get here, despite my Hon. Friend, the Member for Inverclyde having secured the topic of this debate back in February, only to be blocked at the11th hour following complaints from Hon. Members from the Scottish National Party.

I think those tactics are indicative of how unprepared the Scottish Government are on what they envisage postal services to look like should Scotland chose to separate, but connects with a wider theme of the unplanned and ‘off-the-top-of-their-head’ approach that they have brought to this monumental debate.

So now that the arduous negotiations to determine the process of the 2014 referendum are in place, the people of Scotland, and the rest of the UK, are beginning to explore the fundamental issues which will come to determine this historic plebiscite.

Over the last couple of months since agreement was reached, as the issues are delved into, as the reality and the facts begin to rise, something quite fundamental around the question of separation has become plain to see – that the SNP cannot answer the essential questions about Scotland’s future.

The Importance of the Postal Network to Scotland

The Royal Mail and Post Office are much-cherished national institutions, which serve all parts of the United Kingdom well.  It is as part of the UK that we have an extensive Post Office network and the Royal Mail’s “one price goes anywhere” universal postal service operates across the whole of the UK.

But they aren’t just much-loved.  The Royal Mail and Post Office are also absolutely vital to our daily lives, whether for personal or professional reasons.

From the elderly couple in Orkney who post letters to relatives in Oxford, to the small business in Peebles who need to get an order to a customer in Plymouth, the UK’s postal services oil the wheels of our economy.

Indeed, businesses are particularly reliant.  56% of Scottish FSB members rely on the Royal Mail and post office services for between 80 and 100% of their business post.

A higher percentage (33%) of Scottish FSB members rely on Royal Mail for 100% of their business post compared with the whole of the UK (28.2%), with 16% of Scottish FSB members have no available alternative carrier in their area.  Of those who have access to alternative carriers, around 41% of Scottish members consider their services to be too expensive.

So these are just examples of the 58 million items a day to 29 million addresses across the UK that Royal Mail deliver to – indeed of these, 4.5 million items a day are delivered to the 2.5 million addresses in Scotland.

And the community hubs which our Post Offices provide are often forgotten.  As the National Federation of Sub-postmasters (NFSP) have suggested, they are used most by the more vulnerable members of society, for example, 63% of people over 65, and 63% of disabled people in Scotland, visit a Post Office once a week or more often.

People on low incomes are also frequent users – 54% in socioeconomic group ‘DE’ visit a Post Office at least once a week, as do 61% of those with incomes of less than £15,000 a year.

Finally, let’s raise a cheer for the 12,500 people, of which 11,600 are postmen/women, Royal Mail employs in Scotland.  The service they provide is outstanding, and I’m Members from across the House will have gone on a round with their Postie at some point, and if not, then I can highly recommend it.

So they importance of both these institutions cannot be understated.

But what has the response been from the Scottish Government to show that they understand how vital this network is and how it will be secured post-referendum?

It has been, quite frankly, extraordinary.

 

A Scottish Postal Service?

It is difficult to speculate at this stage where responsibility for postal services would lie in an independent Scotland as Ministers in the Scottish Government have given no indication whatsoever as to how they would operate postal services.

We can only assume a separate Scottish government would take over all functions relating to Scotland which are currently the responsibility of the Westminster parliament and, therefore, would have to provide the funds to service that network.

The Scottish Government has made numerous unsubstantiated assumptions. Firstly, that they would follow the EU Directive on postal services – but Scotland may not be in the EU.

As has been discussed at length in this House and across Scotland, there is no guarantee that Scotland would automatically join the EU, and any entry may be subject to lengthy negotiations.

Should Scotland join the EU, it is highly likely that an independent Scottish Government would be subject to legislation regarding postal services which brings several stipulations in the form of the EU Postal Services Directive.

EU Directive 2008/6/EC which provides that EU Member States must ensure the provision of the universal service is guaranteed and must include certain minimum requirements.  These include:

  • one collection from appropriate access points every working day
  • one delivery to all addresses every working day
  • to include postal items and packages up to 20 kilograms; plus
  • a service for registered items and insured items

As it currently stands, the UK Government currently ‘gold-plates’ the EU Directive.  Under the Royal Mail, the Universal Service Obligation (USO) means:

  • that customers pay the same price regardless of where they are sending a letter to within the UK; and
  • that Royal Mail have to be able to collect and deliver mail once every working day to every address in the UK.
  • one collection from appropriate access points every working day;
  • one delivery to all addresses every working day;
  • to include postal items and packages up to 20 kilograms; plus
  • a service for registered items and insured items

It is unclear as to whether a separate Scotland would be able to meet the Directive requirements, let alone maintain the standards achieved by successive UK Governments.

What about Post Offices?

In addition to the Royal Mail obligations, there is also ensuring high levels of access to Post Office branches.

These include requirements that 99 per cent of the UK population be within 3 miles and 90 per cent within 1 mile of their nearest Post Office outlet. In addition, 95 per cent of the total rural population should be within 3 miles, and 95 per cent of the population in every postcode district should be within 6 miles of their nearest Post Office outlet.

The consequence of maintaining such high levels of access is that not all branches are commercially viable. Therefore, to support this policy, the UK Government makes an annual network subsidy payment to POL to maintain branches which are not commercially viable but play an important social and economic role in the communities they serve. It is estimated that around 7,000 branches fall into the non-commercial category and these are predominantly small and rural branches.

A significant proportion of Post Offices in Scotland are non-commercial.

This subsidy is paid to POL as a single annual sum (£210 million in 2012-13; £180 million in 2011-12; £150 million in 2010-11).

There is currently no mechanism for allocating the subsidy down to individual non-commercial branches.

In the event of a vote for independence, an independent Scottish state would have to consider how to fund the significant non-commercial elements of their Post Office network if it wished to maintain the current level of service.

It would be unlikely to achieve the economies of scale of the current UK-wide network, which helps support the provision of services to remote areas.

 

Stamp Prices/Cross Border Mail

As the Royal Mail confirmed to me in response to my FOI request:

Given the low population density across the Highlands and Islands, the number of remote populations with limited transport links and, in particular, the number of islands populations we must reach, it is likely that the costs of providing Royal Mail’s services in Scotland are above the average for the UK.”

CWU evidence on stamp prices

The cost of delivery to these areas is currently subsidised by customers elsewhere in the UK so that a single price applies regardless of geographic location. However, this would not apply in an independent Scotland and the result may be significantly higher stamp prices for customers in Scotland,”

Royal Mail Pensions

As I mentioned, we owe a debt of gratitude to postal workers and the Communications Workers Union (CWU) for the task they undertake.

And like us all, with a hard day’s work they expected to be rewarded with something at the end of career.

This is in the form of the The Royal Mail Pension Plan (RMPP), which is an occupational pension scheme for employees of Royal Mail Group (RMG) Limited.

However, it closed to new entrants on 1 April 2008 and a new defined contribution (or money purchase) scheme was introduced for new entrants from that date.

Furthermore, membership is not compulsory – employees can choose to opt out. Those who do so after 1 April 2008 are not able to rejoin.

On 21 March 2012, the UK Government announced that historic pensions liabilities of £37.5 billion would be transferred to a newly established unfunded public pension scheme – the Royal Mail Statutory Pension Scheme – which is responsible for paying the benefits that members of RMPP had built up to the end of 31 March 2012.

An estimated £28 billion of assets would be transferred to government.  The RMPP remains responsible for all pension benefits earned by members on and after 1 April 2012.

There are therefore major separation raises issues around the responsibility of the Scottish Government to maintain the pensions of Scottish members of the RMPP, should Scotland chose to separate.

But again, where are the answers from the SNP?

It could be anticipated that they would have to accept a percentage of the scheme members in Scotland as part of any negotiation between the UK and Scottish Governments on financial liabilities.

However, the SNP Government have so far given no such assurances that the pensions of hard-working Royal Mail staff will be paid should Scotland and the UK separate.

Conclusion

Conclusion

To conclude, Mr Hood, I’m sure the Scottish Government and SNP will merely do what they always do in these circumstances.  Rather than answering basic questions of concern they will throw around accusations of scaremongering.  Well, lets just put an end to that now.  If the Scottish Government can tell us how much a stamp will cost both internally and externally posting from and to Scotland, how will they take care of the pension liabilities, how much subsidy they will put into both PO and Royal Mail, how many staff will be employed in our postal services, what the long term USO will look like and what is the benefit to Scotland of a separate Royal Mail then we will no longer pose these questions.  However, whilst they obviscate and duck the answer to some pretty simple but important questions I will continue to ask them.

There are complicated issues but the simple fact of the matter is that Scotland geographical layout requires more resources to service than other parts of the UK.

It is clear, that Labour are the only party able to maintain the USO as it is at the moment.  The Tories and Lib Dems want to put the USO at risk by a fire sale privatisation of the Royal Mail and the SNP can’t even tell businesses and pensioners in Scotland how much a stamp will cost and how much it will cost tax payers to maintain the current services.

Is it not the case that the Royal Mail and Post Office are  prime examples in the Uk context of shared services with shared rewards where risks are shared and spread over 65 million rather than 5 million.

 

Spike in crime in Malbet, Buckstone and Swanston

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It has come to my attention from the police that there has been a spike in crime in two areas of the city:

Buckstone and Swanston:

It would appear the break-ins are still occurring within Buckstone, Swanston and Oxgangs Road.

Preferred times would appear to be evening and properties are being broken into at the rear with Jewellery and small electronic items are the favoured targets.

Since the FCC meeting when 3 had been reported in Buckstone there have been another 4.

Malbet:

The Malbet area falls within my policing area.  We are certainly very much aware of the issues that have been ongoing in the area and have tasked officers with carrying out extra patrols on foot, pedal cycle and vehicle in the affected streets.  From our analysis of the times we suspect much of this is in the hours of darkness so the patrols are commensurate with this albeit we are also in the area during the day whilst many people are out at work.

In addition our Crime Prevention Officer has contacted some of the affected residents and the factors for area, Charles White, have agreed to send out crime prevention leaflets, on our behalf, to all local residents.