A couple of years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking the post was going the way of the dinosaur. It’s nice to get a letter, but who regularly sits down to write one any more?
And yet the incredible dysfunction of Royal Mail’s postal service in recent months reveals how much we really need it.
The company itself, which was fully privatised in 2015, says that its service is largely fine. That appears to be far from true in Southwark, where hundreds of people have complained about Christmas cards coming in mid-January, NHS appointment letters arriving too late, business deliveries being delayed, and more.
It is true that thousands of staff members were off work for various reasons in the first week of January, after the Omicron wave of Covid-19 swept the country over Christmas – that is very unfortunate timing in a very busy period for postal workers.
But it is not as if the service was doing particularly well in Southwark before Omicron either. One Southwark resident sent an important letter with a first-class stamp on a Monday morning in November last year, expecting it to be delivered to the recipient, also in south London, the next day. It didn’t get there until Saturday.
A relatively minor inconvenience and embarrassment perhaps. But it also hints at a wider problem that existed before the slew of staff absences that took place before Christmas.
Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes, both interviewed and a columnist in this week’s edition, has been on Royal Mail’s case for a long time. The closure in 2018 of the former East Dulwich sorting office on Sylvester Road, has caused “a lack of resilience” in the local system, she argues – so minor issues become major problems quite easily.
What Hayes, Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle, this paper and the rest of the borough want to know is – when will our postal service be fixed? We’re not blaming postal workers, who have done a heroic job under difficult circumstances.
But, as we have realised as the problem has become more and more obvious, our society needs a functional postal service in order to run properly – and at the moment we just don’t have one.