Peter Hoskin

Same old problems – and solutions – for Royal Mail

Same old problems – and solutions – for Royal Mail
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Two years ago, Richard Hooper wrote a report on Royal Mail which recommended part-privatising the service, among other measures. And today, with the official update to that report, we learn that his views have barely changed at all. If anything is different between then and now, it's that the need to modernise Royal Mail has become even more urgent. The number of letters they're sending has plummeted by more than forecast, and their pensions deficit has become even more unsustainable. The rot has quickened – and, yes, it's up to the government to combat it.

For their part, the coalition are using Hooper's update to stress just how crucial privatisation is for Royal Mail. And, predictably, the Communications Workers Union is responding with the same brand of venom which discouraged Peter Mandelson from acting when he was in charge at the Business department. "This report is politically motivated to please the ideology of the coalition," says their general secretary, Billy Hayes, blissfully ignoring the fact that Hooper made the same points under the Brown government. You can expect strikes, or at least the threat of them, to follow.

Privatising Royal Mail will not be a straightforward task – not just because the organised resistance it will face, but because of the deeper, institutional problems raised by Dr Eamonn Butler in a Coffee House post on Wednesday. So it's encouraging that the government is already formulating ways to smooth out the process. Today's Telegraph, for instance, reports that postmen could be offered shares, John Lewis style, as part of any privatisation deal. Let's see how the CWU gets on arguing against that.