HL Deb 17 January 1989 vol 503 cc103-6

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to prevent the service given to the public by the Post Office from deteriorating.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, the quality of the postal service is a matter for the Post Office. The Chairman of the Post Office has said that he attaches high priority to improving the quality of service. I welcome his determination to do so.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is not the efficiency of the postal service also a matter of concern for the Government in view of the vital part it plays in the working of British life and the British economy? If the Government are not satisfied as to the efficiency of the Post Office, are they prepared to do something about it?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suppose that I should say to my noble friend that concern is greatest among the customers who wait to receive their mail or occasionally to receive their bills. The Post Office has taken a large number of steps to improve the quality of service. It is establishing quality assurance teams in most major sorting offices. It has phased introduction of new, faster mechanised sorting machines, which are scheduled for completion in 1990. It plans to introduce more accurate end-to-end measurement on letter delivery performance. This year it is to publish more clearly defined service standards which customers should expect for local mail, medium distance mail and long distance mail. It has had great difficulty with recruitment, particularly in the South-East. It is taking steps to solve that problem. However, at the end of the day what counts is the quality of service itself, which is a matter of constant concern.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does not the problem lie with what is known as the real unit cost reduction target? This target is designed by the Treasury to achieve greater efficiency but only greater efficiency as measured in accounting terms. Should not the target take account of the quality of service as well, so as to ensure that the Post Office cannot meet the financial target simply by allowing its service to deteriorate?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that that is a rather better red herring than usual—

Noble Lords


Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the standards with which the chairman is concerned are the quality of delivery and of service in the Post Office. That is the matter with which he is concerned. It is the chairman of the Post Office who has responsibility for service in the Post Office and not the Treasury.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that no single measure would add more to the efficiency of the Post Office and do more to strengthen the economy of the postal services than the completion of the postal code? What prospect is there for that to be completed, with all the saving of manpower and increases in efficiency which might be expected?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the problem is not so much the completion of the postal code, which is indeed important, but the introduction of new, faster mechanised sorting machines which are dependent on the postal code. That is scheduled for completion in 1990, next year. When those are in, we shall see some of these improvements coming through.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, it is not for the noble Lord, who is himself an expert manipulator of the red herring, to make that unworthy charge in respect of my noble friend's question. Can he say how the –20 million made available to the Post Office last September to improve customer service has been spent?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it was not a red herring. What we are discussing here is the quality of service of the Post Office and not some Treasury method which is supposed to have some effect on it. I shall certainly take the opportunity to write to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition setting out the ways in which this £20 million has been invested. I shall place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, in view of the substantial deterioration in the service of British Telecom since privatisation, will the Minister give an assurance that he will not be tempted to follow a similar path with the Post Office?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it is not very often that 1 have the opportunity to disagree too strongly with the noble Lord but on this occasion I fear that I must do so. Therefore I shall also have placed in the Library the latest survey results which show that the satisfaction level with British Telecom has risen over the past 12 months to historically high levels. These are independent surveys. The noble Lord can judge for himself when he see those figures.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is it not a fact that, while it may not be 100 per cent. efficient. the British Post Office is a great deal more efficient than most post offices in developed countries? It is infinitely more efficient than the American Post Office. Is not the main trouble that all post offices in developed countries are swamped by unsolicited junk mail?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it is only for the receiver to categorise mail as junk. In our society we all have the right to post letters. It is not for anyone here to say what is junk and what is worth receiving.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that both in London and in the country I have received the very best possible service from my local postman over the past two years? The Post Office should be given credit for that.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I should like to pay great tribute to the work carried out by the staff of the Post Office. Alas, 1988 was a poor year for industrial relations, with some 129 disputes between April and the beginning of October. I hope that we are now entering into calmer conditions and that we shall see the reputation of the Post Office fully restored.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, these new machines will soon be coming into operation. What percentage of business and private customers use the post code at present.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I can certainly make inquiries to see whether that information is available. However, I am sure that once these automatic sorting machines are in place far more people will recognise the sheer necessity of using the post code and will start to remember at least their own post code.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, contrary to the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, many letters come from this city to Hampshire—a distance of 60 miles—in two and a half days, which works out at an average movement of one mile an hour?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I have a faint suspicion that when the chairman of the Post Office reads Hansard, as I am sure he will, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter will find that the quality of his service may well improve.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether he considers that the introduction of first-class and second-class mail, with experience over the years, has helped or hindered the speed of letter delivery'?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, we live in different times. It is undeniable, if we go back enough decades, that there was a time when we relied upon the post far more than we do today and when there were many deliveries and collections each day by the Post Office. However, that was a different age and we are now coming into a time when fax and different methods are being used. We must ensure that we have a Post Office with a quality of service which is satisfactory. Indeed, the chairman of the Post Office is dedicated to improving the quality of service and I welcome his determination to do so. However, I think that we shall have to judge that by results.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us when the full postal code will be put into the telephone book?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suppose that is a matter for British Telecom, but I shall make inquiries and, again, I shall let the noble Lord know the outcome.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, does the Minister agree that none of the exchanges which have taken place to date should he seen as reflecting adversely on the personal services given by the postmen and women who deliver and collect the mail?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for what he said. I accept that totally.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, even if British Telecom puts postal codes in the telephone book, how are you supposed to find out the postal code of someone who is not on the telephone?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am tempted to say "pass" at this point.

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