Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Edward Davey and Mike Whitehead
15 December 2010
Q319 Chair: Good afternoon, Comrade
Mr Davey: Good afternoon, Commissioner
Chair: Commissar, I think. We notice
that you have come with far fewer supporting staff than the regulators.
We think that is an interesting point for us to be aware of. You're
obviously confident enough not to need that degree of supporting
As you know, we are looking at the Postal Services
Bill as the Scottish Affairs Committee, so we are particularly
interested in the delivery of the Universal Service Obligation
in Scotland and also the network of post offices; questions of
ownership, pensions and so on we see as being UK responsibilities
and not really our focus. The two particular areas that we are
interested in are the universal service and post offices, which
are what we will probably want to pursue most of all with you.
Our concern first of all about the universal
service is that although we see it set down in clause 30, clause
29(4) states that it is to be reviewed within 18 months. As you
can imagine, that causes us some anxiety. Assuming the worstusually
a realistic position to take, because then you are not disappointedwe
would envisage perhaps that Ofcom or someone else would then change
that downwards. We have just had reassurance from the regulators
that any change to the universal provision would need to come
back to Parliament and be passed by both Houses as legislation.
First of all, is that your understanding of the position?
Mr Davey: Yes.
Q320 Chair: Why is it necessary
to have it reviewed after 18 months?
Mr Davey: If it may help the Committee,
let me explain the universal service requirements, their genesis
and how they are structured. Hopefully, I will then be able to
answer your question as clearly as possible.
The universal service has three tiers. As you
will be delighted to know, there is a European postal directive,
which lists minimum requirements that universal service providers
in member states have to provide. Those requirements are significantly
less than we have in clause 30. Under the European postal directive,
you only have to deliver five days a week, and there is no requirement
for uniformity. As the previous Government did, and as has been
the case in Britain for many years, we have gold-plated the European
directive, so clause 30 sets out in law the minimum requirements
that the UK Government have decided, which go beyond the postal
On top of that there is something called the
Universal Postal Service Order. The order-making power is detailed
in clause 29(1). The order mirrors the current framework from
the 2000 Postal Services Act, which I think was referred to by
Tim Brown. Under the 2000 Act, Royal Mail has a licence with Postcomm,
and the conditions that would be in the Universal Postal Service
Order are similar to the conditions in the current legislation
for the Royal Mail licence from Postcomm. When you read "Universal
Postal Service Order" in clause 29, you have to see a higher
level of universal postal service regulation, which links into
the current framework with the licence. To change the postal directive,
there would have to be a new postal directive in Europe; and to
change the minimum service requirements set out in clause 30 there
would have to be measures in Parliament.
Q321 Chair: When you say "measures",
what do you mean by that? That wouldn't be just an order, would
Mr Davey: Let me take you through
that. Clause 33, entitled "Review of minimum requirements",
basically sets out three safeguards. The first is that Ofcom would
have to do a review of users' needs and make recommendations.
The Secretary of State would have to accept those recommendations
and decide that he wants to change the minimum service requirements.
The Secretary of State would then have to come to Parliament with
an order, which would have to be agreed by both Houses. But that
order, if a Secretary of State were so minded after an Ofcom review,
would not be allowed to change the uniformity of price and service.
So unless there was another Act of Parliament, under clause 33,
even if an order was made, which I don't think is likely, it couldn't
change the universal service in respect of the uniformity of price
Mr Davey: I haven't quite finished.
This is a long answer, but it is a complicated subject and I am
glad that I have a chance to set it out in a clear way.
The Universal Postal Service Order, which links
to the licence at the moment, sets a higher level for universal
service. That can be changed by Ofcom, it is true, but the reason
we put in the 18-month review is not so much that we want Ofcom
to change it, but that, although Ofcom is going to be pretty busy
as it takes over from Postcomm during the transition, at some
stage it has to set a Universal Postal Service Order and, in effect,
renew the Royal Mail licence as in the previous statutory regime.
By doing it after 18 months, it is actually more likely to keep
the arrangements in the Royal Mail licence at the moment. That's
deliberate. In no way is it a threat to the conditions of the
Royal Mail licence; in a way it is the best way of doing it.
Q322 Chair: You can understand
our anxieties, which reflect those of people who have been to
see us. If I may, I will run through some of those things, just
to be absolutely clear. To change from collecting letters six
days a week, with one price for everywhere, the clause specifies
that the matter has to come back to Parliament and has to be the
subject of an order that is voted upon in both Houses, so there
is no way of slipping out of that.
Mr Davey: Yes.
Chair: That is very helpful.
Mr Davey: Can I just add that
that is much stronger than the current position and the provisions
of the previous Government's 2009 Postal Service Bill? When I
looked at this and asked how the minimum service requirements
can be changed, I was eventually told, "Under the European
Communities Act 1972, where a member state has requirements that
are above the European directive, a Secretary of State can, by
negative resolution, reduce those minimum service requirements
down to the European level." In other words, the safeguards
prior to this clause were less, so the clause has increased the
safeguards for the minimum service requirement. It has increased
the safeguards for the universal postal service.
Q323 Chair: I think we are probably,
on balance, not against that, in as much as I understand it.
Can I clarify again our understanding of clause
32(2)(b), which Alan picked up in a previous session? It refers
to waiving the requirements of the USO if it considers geographical
or other conditions to be exceptional. We are seeking assurances
that it is not intended for, and will never be applied to, an
area like exceptional Argylla whole area of the country.
We accept completely that there will be some circumstances where
a particular house cannot be serviced under these termswe're
not unreasonable. What we want are assurances that it will never
be the intention that part of the country, either for geographical
reasons or, particularly, for economic reasons, will have a different
standard applied to it.
Mr Davey: I can give you those
total assurances. I can also reference how we discussed this in
the Bill Committee, when a parliamentary colleague tabled an amendment
to delete that subsection. I described his amendment as the Milk
Tray amendment, because Royal Mail postmen and women would have
to act like the man in the Milk Tray advert who swings down from
Chair: That is quite an old one actually.
Mr Davey: It is quite an old one,
but I thought you would remember it.
Chair: We didn't have a television then,
but I heard about it.
Mr Davey: Touché. Imagine
severe conditions that would put postmen and women in danger.
There clearly have to be exceptions. There are exceptions when
someone decides that they want to have a dangerous dog loose in
their garden, making it very difficult for the postman to go up
and down the path. There are also exceptions in a number of places
based on geography: for example, if an island has only a once-a-week
ferry, there is no way you can ask the universal service provider
to charter a ferry especially to provide a daily delivery. This
subsection in clause 32 reflects that. It uses language that comes
directly from the postal services directive and is identical to
what was in the Postal Services Bill 2009. It also reflects the
current situation. It is not some sort of get-out clause; it is
for exceptions only for health and safety, geography and weather.
Chair: I open the floor to my colleagues
on the discussion of the Universal Service Obligation, rather
than going over a number of other areas.
Q324 Mr Reid: I have a general
question. How has Royal Mail performed during the recent bad weather
in Scotland in terms of letters, parcels and cash delivery to
Mr Davey: It has actually done
really well. When there is extreme weather, it is not able, as
we have discussed, to necessarily guarantee its usual high performance,
but it is investing £20 million especially to ensure that
its delivery services, which have been hit by some of the severest
weather for 30 years, can be maintained. If you compare them on,
say, delivery of parcels with some of the private operators, which
are having some real problems, Royal Mail with its Parcelforce
partner is really trying to deliver a high-quality service despite
the conditions. I would like to put on record my thanks to Royal
Mail and particularly its staff who, under very difficult conditions,
are delivering for people.
Q325 Mr Reid: Are you satisfied
that once the Bill goes through and Royal Mail is, say, in private
hands, it will still be in a position to deliver the same high
level of service?
Mr Davey: Yes, because the service
quality comes down to the regulation. The regulation in part 3
of the Bill, which is similar to part 3 of the 2009 Bill, is strong.
If anything, we have made it stronger in this Bill, compared with
the previous one. If a private universal service providerwhich
I presume is a private Royal Mailwere to fail to meet its
regulatory obligations, it would be liable for fines.
Mr Reid: On post offices
Chair: Let's stick with the Universal
Service Provision, because I see that a number of other people
want to come in on the USOs.
Mr Reid: It is to do with the USOs.
Q326 Mr Reid: Clause 30 refers
to the Universal Postal Service requirement to collect six days
a week from access points. Clause 28(5) defines an access point,
which means a post box or a post office. Clause 28(4) states that
Ofcom has to "secure the provision of sufficient access points
to meet the reasonable needs of users". What assurances can
you give us that that definition of "reasonable needs of
users" will allow small rural post offices to stay open?
Mr Davey: Ofcom has a number of
duties to consumers that come from the Communications Act 2003.
When one reads the duties that Ofcom has in the current Bill,
one has to read the 2003 Act side by side. In section 3 of that,
I think, there is a whole series of duties to consumers, to which
Ofcom must have regard when it is carrying out its duties as a
regulator. They include duties to the elderlythere are
a number of vulnerable categories, including the disabled. It
has to consider the needs of ethnic minority communities, the
needs of rural and urban communities, and the needs of people
who are living in all parts of the country.
The legal duties on Ofcom through the 2000 Act
are very strong, and it will have to apply those duties to how
it carries out its duties as the postal services regulator. I
am strongly of the view that Ofcom, in thinking about how it goes
about its duties under clause 28(4) in relation to access points,
has some strong duties to which it must adhere.
Q327 Mr Reid: An important part
of the USO is this six-day collection. If a pillar box were to
be removed or a post office were to be closed, it would dilute
the USO. So would there be statutory procedures that must be gone
through to close a post office, or to take away a pillar box?
Mr Davey: They are not statutory
procedures, but clearly if something such as the closure of a
post office is going to happen, as we all know from the closure
programmes of the previous Government, consultation is required.
The consultation requirements and the framework for those are
set out in a code of practice that has been agreed between Post
Office Ltd and Consumer Focus, which is the independent watchdog
of consumer needs.
Fiona O'Donnell: Can I follow on from
Chair: Can I take Eilidh's question now?
A number of people want to come in directly on this.
Q328 Dr Whiteford: Good afternoon.
You will appreciate that there is a lot of anxiety in rural communities
about the impact of these proposals on what are already eroded
and depleted mail services in many areas. I am still looking for
clarityI've not had it yetabout whether the Universal
Service Obligation in a privatised Royal Mail will ever be commercially
viable in areas such as the one that I represent. It gives me
particular concern that the Bill will allow parts of the USO to
be broken up. I am afraid that the easy bits will be cherry-picked
and the difficult bits, such as Argyll, Aberdeenshire, or the
Highlands and Islands, will be left with poor services, which
nobody wants and which will never be commercially viable on their
Let me totally reassure you on this. The core policy objective
behind the Bill and our overall policy is to protect the Universal
Postal Service to make sure that it is financially viable. Without
the Bill, the Universal Postal Service is under threat. Let's
be absolutely clear and understand where Royal Mail is at the
moment. Last year, it had a cash flow negative position of £500
million. Its pension deficit is £8.3 billion. Disastrousthat's
the largest pension deficit of any UK organisation. Its letter
volumes last yearits core businessfell by 7%. It
is predicted that the letter volumes over the next five years
will fall by between 25% and 40%. It is under-invested. It is
inefficient. It needs to change.
The current way of doing things is not bringing
about that change. We need private capital to get that change
dramatically. Look at what happened when Deutsche Post was privatised
in 2001: taking account of exchange rate fluctuations, it has
had investment equivalent to £11.6 billion. That would not
happen if Royal Mail remained in state hands. That investment
is needed to ensure that the universal service can be delivered
in a digital age when the biggest competitor of Royal Mail is
e-mail. That is the driver behind the Bill.
Let me take your specific point about your concern
that it could be broken up. I assume that you are referring to
clause 34"Designation of universal service providers".
That makes it very clear that there are very limited circumstances
in which there could be more than one universal service provider.
There are two, which are set out under subsections (3) and (4).
The first case is when Ofcom has done a review about whether
the Universal Postal Service is an unfair burden on the universal
service provider. If it is deemed to be an unfair burden, Ofcom
can make recommendations to the Secretary of State about how that
could be addressed. Unlike the previous Bill, which only had
one optionthe compensation fundwe put in three options.
We think that's better as there is more than one option to deal
with the unfair burden. The options are to look at the minimum
service requirements, the compensation fund and the idea of a
procurement of a service in the area where there is deemed to
be an unfair burden on the universal service provider. It is
unlikely that we will get to that situationthese are safety
nets. To get to that situation, you will have had to have a major
review by Ofcom. It will have to make recommendations and the
Secretary of State will have to make a decision on how to go forward.
Yes, there is the procurement option, but I
don't think it would lead to the break-up of Royal Mail in the
way that you envisage. Royal Mail could win the procurement.
More important, the area where the unfair burden could happenin
the event that it happenedis likely to be small. If you
talk to Royal Mail, it believes that being the universal service
provider is its USP and a key part of its brand. My view is that
a private owner would want to protect that, so I do not think
that we would reach that situation.
The other case set out in clause 34(4) is that
of postal administration. If we reach that, we are into calamity
and total collapse. The business has effectively gone bankrupt.
We really do not think that that will happen but, as in the case
of the water industry when it was privatised and other utilities,
one has to provide in legislation for what would happen in that
circumstance. Part 4 of the Bill sets out how a postal administration
order would work. If the Secretary of State were dealing with
a collapse in the universal service provider and having to ensure,
under the European legal obligations, that a universal service
is still provided, we are allowing the Secretary of State to have
more than one provider. I hope that I have shown, by taking you
through those two subsections, that the chances of getting to
a point where there is more than one universal service provider
are very, very limited and very, very unlikely.
In any event, even if you do end up with more than one service
provider, they will still be bound by the same rules of Universal
Mr Davey: Absolutely.
Q330 Chair: Therefore, we need
not be anxious about that road.
Mr Davey: Exactly right.
Q331 Chair: You were possibly
trying to provoke us into a debate about privatisation earlier
on. We have agreed that we are not going to discuss that, because
the division in this Committee will probably reflect the division
downstairs in the Chamber, so we haven't discussed any of that.
What we are focusing on is outcomes, and what we are looking for
is the best service for Scotland under almost any possible circumstances,
which is why we are restricting ourselves in terms of what we
are pursuing. Eilidh has flushed out that, no matter what happens,
the universal service will remain the same and that exceptions
like Argyll or anywhere else will not have a reduced service.
Mr Davey: That's right. I promise
that I'm not trying to provoke you despite your attempts to provoke
me, Chairman. Don't feel wounded; it is meant in good spirit.
The only point that I would pick you up on is that I understand
you not wanting to take on the ownership question, and I'm not
asking you to, but it is true to say that the policy logic of
the Bill is that, if we didn't get private capital into Royal
Mail, the universal service would really be under threat. That
is why I talked about that, and I talked about the absolutely
deep-seated challenges that Royal Mail has. It is has effectively,
for a long time, been a labour-intensive industry. It is increasingly
having to become a more capital-intensive industry in order to
be efficient and to get costs down. Therefore, it has to invest
in capital equipment.
Chair: As I say, we're not going to go
down that road.
Q332 David Mowat: I just wanted
to finally and totally pursue the point that you were just talking
about with clause 34, because what you said was quite different
to what the unions said to us yesterday. They were very concerned
that part of what the Bill was doing was liberalising postal services
as a second-tier effect to the privatisation. Just to be clear,
that is not what the Bill does, and you've described clause 34
as having three levels to it. If it is deemed to be unfairif
somebody is going bustthere are three things that you can
do: one is potentially to adjust the USO.
Mr Davey: Yes.
Q333 David Mowat: The second is
to pay more subsidies. The third is to procure. It's almost like
a nuclear option.
Mr Davey: Yes. It is not as nuclear
an option as administration, of course, but if it got to that
point, the Bill wouldn't have achieved its main objective.
Q334 David Mowat: Just to be even
clearer then, there will not be a market in postal services with
several providers unless clause 34 is triggered, and that would
require the regulator to say that it is deemed to be unfair to
Mr Davey: Let me try to answer
that in as broad a way as I can to ensure that there is no misunderstanding.
At the moment, there is competition in parts of the mail system.
You have your upstream accessthe collection of the mail.
You have the transportation of the mail, the sorting of the mail
and the delivery of the mail. There are already private competitors
in the collection, the transportation and the sorting of the mail.
There are almost no competitors at the delivery end. Royal Mail
delivers 99 point whatever percent. of letters in this country.
Under the current legislationforget the
Billit is possible for a company to set up, if they wanted
to, to do delivery. There is nothing stopping them in the legislation.
They could do, but they don't, because they can't do it as efficiently
as Royal Mail, and they couldn't compete with Royal Mail. You
have people who deliver unaddressed letters and pizza leaflets
and that sort of thing, but you don't get them delivering addressed
letter mail. The Bill doesn't change that. It doesn't ban end-to-end
competitors. They could come in if they wanted to, but I don't
think they will. Clause 34 would only see more than one universal
service provider under these two unlikely scenarios.
Q335 David Mowat: So let me ask
the question a different way. If I set up a company in my constituency
of Warrington, and I said that I wanted to deliver the mail in
Warrington and that I would collect it from the sorting office,
there is nothing to stop that happening either now or in the future.
Mr Davey: No. You couldn't go
and collect it from Royal Mail, because it's Royal Mail's mail
Q336 David Mowat: But if the regulator
decided to liberalise it, you could.
Mr Davey: What could happen now
is that you can set up a companyMowat plcand you
could market yourself and say, "I want to collect and deliver
your mail anywhere in the country." You are able to do that;
you'd be free to do that now. But you wouldn't do it because of
the economics of it, as you'd lose loads of money. The Bill does
not change that. We envisage that there will be a universal service
provider as now, who will do the vast bulk of delivery. That is
not changed by the Bill, and I can't see that changing going forward.
Q337 David Mowat: Just to be totally
clear, because the union said something different, you have the
one aim of putting capital into the company for the reasons that
you've explained, and you haven't got a second-tier aim with the
Bill to liberalise the postal service.
Mr Davey: No. We already have
a very liberalised postal market. It's just that it's quite difficult
in the economics of the postal industry to have competitors in
the last mile.
Q338 David Mowat: The specific
evidence that we were given by the union was that the nature of
this privatisation is different to, for example, what happened
in Germany, where it was privatised wholesale and remained wholesale.
You're saying that as far as you understand it, it is going to
be privatised wholesale and remain wholesale, so it is not different
in that regard.
Mr Davey: No, not at all.
Q339 Chair: For the avoidance
of any doubt on thisI will not use the term "Warrington";
let's come to Glasgownobody would be able to say, "We
will compete with Royal Mail for the delivery of the last mile
in Glasgow", as they would not be able to access the flow
of mail all the way through. They would, however, surely be able
to set up a company that said, "If you are in Glasgow, and
if you give mail to us, we will then be able to deliver it in
Mr Davey: They can now.
Q340 Chair: Ah, that's right.
But they would not have access to any mail that had been fed into
the Royal Mail system.
Mr Davey: No.
Q341 Chair: Fine. I just want
to be clear, as you will understand. So coming back to the point,
private sector companies collect it from banks, do a pre-sort,
and then split it into the Royal Mail system. Once it is in the
Royal Mail, it never comes out, so to speak.
Mr Davey: That's right.
Chair: Fine. I think that effectively
clarifies it all.
Q342 David Mowat: My final point
is: am I right in saying that there is nothing in the legislation
that would prevent the whole thing from being bought by Canada
Post within a year if that is what it wanted to do?
Mr Davey: We haven't put any restrictions
on ownership in that way. What we have not set out in the Bill
quite deliberately is how the transaction is going to happen,
because we want to be as flexible as possible. We learnt from
the problems that the last Government got themselves into, when
they couldn't sell because they put a lot of restrictions on themselves.
We want to make sure that we don't make that error, so we have
not restricted when or how we sell, whether we sell through an
IPO, through listing it, or go with a trade partner, have an auction
process or get private equity in. You have to look at all those.
Q343 David Mowat: So after you've
sold it, will it be a quoted plc, so anybody could buy it? Or
would that depend?
Mr Davey: It might not be a quoted
Q344 Jim McGovern: Just again
on the subject of ownership, I made this analogy yesterday. The
buses in Dundee used to be run by Dundee Corporation, which became
Dundee City Council, but it was still totally publicly owned and
publicly run. Eventually it was privatised, and now the bus company
is saying that certain routes are not profitable, and so it will
not run buses on them. What is to say that if Royal Mail is privatised,
it will not eventually say that it is not profitable to go to
Argyll and Bute or the Western Isles?
Mr Davey: It is very simple, Mr
McGovern. There is no regulator of bus transport services in Dundee,
but there is a regulator of the market here. The regulator has
legal powers, so that if the privatised universal service provider
doesn't meet its legal obligations, it can be fined.
Jim McGovern: It can be fined?
Mr Davey: Yes.
Q345 Jim McGovern: What difference
is that going to make to it, if it's making millions of pounds
Mr Davey: Well, 10% of turnover
is quite a big fine. If Royal Mail were fined 10% of turnover,
it would have to pay about £635 million. That figure is from
memory and might not be absolutely correct.
Jim McGovern: I'm taking a note of it,
even as you speak.
Mr Davey: I'm sure that we can
get the exact figure if you want it. The potential ability for
the regulator to fine the universal service provider if it is
not meeting its legal obligations is an asset.
Q346 Jim McGovern: I'm intrigued.
I never realised that there was nothing to regulate transport
in that fashion, that they can just do what they want, withdrawing
buses and scrapping routes.
Mr Davey: I'm not au fait with
the situation in Dundee; I've got to be absolutely clear about
that. My understanding is that presumably there is someone who
franchises out the routes, and if someone's not prepared to run
that route for that franchise, unless the local or transport authority
puts in more subsidy
Q347 Jim McGovern: It's absolutely
impossible for that to happen with the Bill as proposed.
Mr Davey: Yes, because of Ofcom.
Chair: We'll move on. Given that you
haven't bothered to brief yourself on the transport situation
in Dundee, we'll not labour that[Laughter.]
Q348 Cathy Jamieson: I'll resist
the temptation to be mischievous by welcoming your support for
better regulation of transport in Scotland.
I'm looking for a further bit of clarification
in relation to clauses 34 and 43. I questioned Ofcom on clause
34, and I think that you have now gone some way towards explaining
that it would be only in exceptional circumstanceswhen
things keeled over, essentiallythat there could be more
than one provider of Universal Postal Services, and that perhaps
if we got to that stage a different type of service would be being
supplied. However, Ofcom said that clause 43 was a protection
in relation to that. The CWU in particular has raised some concerns
that clause 43 could also be linked to the carrying out of reviews
under clause 33. I am looking for clarification on that. Does
clause 43 and the ability to change the Universal Service Obligation
relate only to the provisions in clause 34? Sorry for being so
technical about it, but it's so important.
Mr Davey: No, no, no. That's a
very good question. Some of you should have been on the Postal
Services Bill Committee, and given me a hard time.
Cathy Jamieson: Flattery will get you
nowhere: I just need an answer please.
Mr Davey: Actually, in this world
we say, "Philately will get you everywhere." Anyway,
in clause 43(8) it does say that the "recommended action"a
recommendation that Ofcom would make"may consist of
one or more of the following(a) the carrying out of a review
under section 33 (review of minimum requirements)". That
is one of the three things that could happen if Ofcom had done
a review and found that the financial burden on a universal service
provider in a particular part of carrying out that duty was unfair.
But the decision would be made by the Secretary of State.
Q349 Cathy Jamieson: Can I just
clarify that? If, in a situation before Royal Mail or whoever
keeled over, Ofcom did a review and found that the financial situation
was precarious or that it had concerns about it, it could make
recommendations to the Secretary of State that there be more than
one provider or that the Universal Service Obligation be changed,
Mr Davey: Yes. If it does the
review and finds that there is an unfair burden it can make recommendations
to the Secretary of State, but the Secretary of State then has
to decide what he wants to do. So, say that we chose a review
under section 33, he would have to go and look at the review and
then come to Parliament if he wanted to reduce the minimum service
requirements. Parliament would still have the say-so.
Cathy Jamieson: Okay. That's helpful.
Q350 Chair: Could I perhaps turn
to the question of the post office network, which is the other
main issue that concerns us? A higher percentage of Scottish post
offices are in rural areas than in the UK as a whole, and we would,
therefore, generally take the view that Scottish post offices
are more likely to be at risk. You're nodding, so I presume that
you accept that.
Mr Davey: No, not the "at
risk" bit. You're right that
Q351 Chair: Okay, well it's very
helpful if you don't think that any of them are at risk, but my
understanding is that so far this year 22 of them have closed
in Scotland, and a number of others are on long-term temporary
closures, which seems to be a euphemism for closure. There are
also 57 of them up for sale. In that context, things are fluid
all the time and as you possibly heard us discussing earlier on,
we have issues about access. As I understand it, the rules on
access to which the regulators are working are the rules that
are in the BIS outline that we had earlier on about 90%you'll
know the figures better than I do.
My understanding is that those figures determine
that there would be 7,000-odd access points, whereas in fact at
the moment there are around 11,000. There is therefore a potential
fall of 4,000-odd before the criteria on access are met. Obviously
we would reckon that a disproportionate number of those would
be in Scotland, because of the rurality and so on and so forth.
What assurance can you give us that if you stick to these access
criteria, that does not become a maximum figure that is provided
and all the rest simply go?
Mr Davey: Let's be clear. The
policy of the Government is "no closure programme for post
offices". There can be, of course, because it is outside
our control and outside POL's control, occasions when a post office
closes because a sub-postmaster retires or decides they don't
want to go on any more and they have not been able to find anyone
to take over their business. Remember, 97% of post offices are
privately owned or privately run. In that situation, POL will
see whether it can find someone else to reopen it and will have
to make a decision on that. Our policy of no programme of closureswhich
is a very strong policy and I will deal with some of the details
behind that in a secondcan't prevent an individual post
office from closing or a postmaster from trying to sell it. It
is impossible to do that.
Q352 Fiona O'Donnell: Would it
not be possible to do that by setting a minimum number of post
offices in the Bill?
Mr Davey: The problem if you do
that is this. Imagine there were 11,500 post officesit
is slightly over that, as it happensand you said, "Right,
there must be 11,500. Put it in legislation." If a private
individual decided that they wanted to retire or they died, suddenly
there would be a legal obligation. You would have broken the law
and it wasn't your fault. So you wouldn't want to put a legal
obligation in the statute which you couldn't control. That would
be a rather unfair thing to do, I'd have thought.
Q353 Chair: Can I be clear then
about the status of the access criteria?
Mr Davey: I'm coming to those.
We basically borrowed what the last Government had for the access
criteria. There is no change in them. We have not downgraded them.
They are exactly the same. In our business contract with Post
Office Ltd, where we are handing over £1.34 billion over
the next four yearsthe life of the spending reviewwe've
said, "One of the conditions of this money is that you must
keep open 11,500 post offices." Post Office Ltd has to keep
open 11,500 post offices, or it breaks its legal contract with
Q354 Chair: I find some difficulty
in understanding how that ties in with the point that Fiona was
making, to which you responded that if somebody dies you don't
want to be tied to a particular number.
Mr Davey: There is a big difference
between a legal contract where they can come to us and say, "We
are trying to find someone else to put back in there. They've
died. It was unforeseen. We are doing our best to replace them."
and a statutory duty where they break the law.
This is perhaps slightly too subtle for me.
Fiona O'Donnell: I'm confused too.
Mr Davey: If you break an Act
of Parliament, you commit an offence and you can be fined. That
is rather different from you, in carrying out a legal agreement
with your partner, saying, "We're trying to meet that but
give us a few months to find a replacement." This is such
a strong commitment that we have made in this Government, far,
far stronger, I have to say, than the last Government when 7,000
post offices closed.
Q356 Chair: You're trying to provoke
Mr Davey: No, I'm not. I'm just
saying that the policy of the last Government, which had the same
access criteria, led to 7,000 post offices closing. Under ours
we have made a commitment, funded by £1.34 billion and a
whole set of policies that are set out in this document, to say
that we want 11,500 post offices for you to deliver. I think it
is a pretty strong statement, backed up by serious money.
Q357 Chair: Can I come back again
to the discrepancy between the numbers that will be provided for
under the access criteria, which I believe to be some 7,500, and
the 11,500 figure that you are mentioning now? I do not understand
how those two come together. Am I making myself clear?
Mr Davey: I understand.
Q358 Chair: The figures that I
havethe access criteria in the BIS documentcould
be met by 7,500, yet there are 11,500. If 11,500 is the legal
agreement, what is the specification about where those should
be? If you have 7,500 being met by the criteria, you obviously
do not need the rest.
Mr Davey: I think you're getting
there. If you did not have the access criteriaI am taking
it to the extremeyou could have 11,500 post offices in
London and no post offices anywhere else. The access criteria
ensure the geographical dispersion, so that communities, including
remote, rural communities in Scotland, have to have post offices
that meet those access criteria. That is why the two work together.
We have a legal agreement. We want 11,500 and we have given them
the money, but they need to make sure that the post offices are
geographically dispersed, to meet the access criteria.
Q359 Fiona O'Donnell: Just to
clarify, what are the access criteria in a rural part of Scotland?
How near to your home do you have to be able to access services?
Mr Davey: I'm going to have to
check, if that is all right.
Q360 Chair: I've got it. The BIS
document, "Securing the Post Office Network in the digital
age" says: "99% of the UK population will be within
three miles of their nearest post office outlet; 90% of the population
to be within one mile of their nearest post office outlet; 99%
of the total population in deprived urban areas across the UK
will be within one mile of their nearest post office outlet; 95%
of the total urban population across the UK to be within one mile
of their nearest post office outlet; 95% of the total rural population
across the UK to be within three miles of their nearest post office
outlet." It also says: "In addition, the following criterion
applies at a local level to ensure a minimum level of access for
customers living in remote rural areas: 95% of the population
of every postcode district to be within six miles of their nearest
post office outlet."
Mr Davey: That's exactly right.
Q361 Fiona O'Donnell: That's the
postcode down to how many letters?
Chair: I don't know. The Minister knows
Mike Whitehead: The first three
or four characters.
Q362 Fiona O'Donnell: The first
three. For example, EH16?
Mike Whitehead: There are 2,800
postcode districts across the UK as a whole.
Q363 Fiona O'Donnell: We have
established what the access criteria are. If a post office is
going to close, because someone dies or wants to retire, which
then means that the access criteria cannot be met, how is the
Mr Davey: Then Post Office Ltd
has to ensure that those access criteria are met. It would have
to find another person to run a post office to enable it to meet
the criteria. The fact is that now, those criteria are more than
met. We are not on the cusp. If we have 11,500, which are guaranteed
over the next four years because of our legal contract and the
money, I cannot envisage a situation where we will breach the
Q364 Fiona O'Donnell: I am confused
as to why you say you cannot enshrine it in law. Why can't you
enshrine that in law? That seems to be what you are saying to
me. You are saying that Ofcom has to provide the service.
Mr Davey: I think we have much
better protection here in our system. I will compare it with other
countries in a minute, because that was raised in the Standing
Committee. We have protections in the Bill, which we referred
to earlierI think it was my hon. Friend the Member for
Argyll and Bute. Under clause 28(4) it states: "OFCOM's duty
under subsection (1) includes a duty to carry out their functions
in relation to postal services in a way that they consider will
secure the provision of sufficient access points to meet the reasonable
needs of users of the universal postal service." That is
the statutory protection, which the regulator, Ofcom, has to ensure
is met. Over and above that we have the access criteria, which
is the overall agreement with Post Office Ltd. And above that
we have the legal contract. We have three sets of protection.
In the Postal Services Bill Committee, the argument was made that
we should adopt the German option. The Germans have enshrined
it in legislation. Do you know what the German legislation says
about the protection for the access criteria?
Fiona O'Donnell: You won't be surprised
to hear that I do not know.
Mr Davey: Noexactly. [Laughter.]
Regarding the access points in rural areas in Germany, there should
be a post office every 80 sq km. If we enshrined the German rule
in our law, you would see a lot of post offices closing across
Scotland. The point about Germany has been made by some Members
of the Committee. Really, they should have looked at what the
Germans had enshrined in legislation, because it is not a good
Q365 Chair: To be fair, there's
nothing wrong with the model. It is the figures that you are criticising,
Mr Davey: I guess what I'm saying
is that you can put things in law, or in contracts, and so on,
but ultimately the reason why post offices will stay open is that
they are commercially viable, either because they are getting
subsidies or they are getting business. The whole of our strategy
is to try to ensure that we get more business through the post
office network. Ultimately, businesses do not survive because
Parliament has legislated that they will survive; businesses survive
because they are doing business.
Q366 Fiona O'Donnell: We have
an assurance about the access criteriathat Ofcom will have
to deliver that service. The number is guaranteed at 11,500 post
Mr Davey: Post Office Ltd has
to deliver a post office network over the four years of our contract
with them that is at least 11,500.
Q367 Fiona O'Donnell: Right. And
you were critical of the Government closing 7,000 post offices.
If you believe those post offices should have stayed open, why
haven't you made it a higher number?
Mr Davey: That is a very good
question. We have inherited an incredibly difficult situation.
I explained that we inherited Royal Mail, which has a pension
deficit of £8.3 billion, and that it is losing money. Post
Office Ltd is losing money and has to have a big subsidy that
is growing and growing and growing. We have to turn that situation
around. I am afraid that we cannot do it all in the first year,
but I believe that the strategy that we are putting togetherwhether
it is the Bill, the spending review, or the particular policies
that we will no doubt come towill enable us to turn that
Q368 Chair: Can I just be clear
though? What you are stating as the Government's policy does not
in itself stop the closure of particular sub-post offices. You
could still have the network minimum being met, which I think
is met by 7,500, and you could have some closing in one part of
the country, some opening in another part of the country, and
that remains the 11,500 figure. There is not a guarantee to anybody
out there that their particular post office will remain open,
because life is fluid and there will be changes.
Mr Davey: I think you're seeing
it in a different way. Your idea that some would be closed down
in one part of the UK and open elsewhere would suggest that there
was a proactive closure programme being run by Post Office Ltd,
which the Government had presumably asked it to implement, as
we saw in the last Parliament. That is not happening.
Chair: I understand that.
Mr Davey: What could happen is
that an individual sub-postmaster could die, or they could hand
in their keys and retire, or they could sell their business. You
mentioned that a certain number of post offices are up for sale
at the moment. To be honest, post offices have always been on
the marketthat is the usual thing. That shows that there
is still a healthy market in sub-post offices.
Q369 Chair: I understand that,
but I just want to be in a position where we are not going out
of here telling people that all their post offices are safe, because
there will be some situations, say in Argyll, where there are
two post offices within an area that meet the criteria, as it
were. One of those could close and that would not necessarily
require action by Royal Mail to reopen another one. I understand
your point about the 11,500 post offices, and I am not suggesting
that you would move them from there to here, but given that you
have a target and that there will be new towns developing, population
shifts and all the rest of it, that target can possibly be met
Mr Davey: There is no upper target.
If they want to expand the network, they can go ahead and expand
Chair: Fine. Fiona, you wanted to come
Q370 Fiona Bruce: Thank you. I
wanted to ask about Outreach post offices and where they fit into
the criteria of access points. I am interested generally in how
you see Outreach post offices working in the future. In addition,
however, playing devil's advocate I will point out that 39 of
them are mobile in Scotland. Are we saying that if a post office
van tours around various postal code areas it constitutes an access
point, or how will that work?
Mr Davey: We've used exactly the
same definition for what counts as a post office as the last Government.
We have not tried to change definitions or anything like that,
and my understanding of the definitions used by the last Government,
which I presume colleagues would support, is that if you're producing
an Outreach service, that will count as an access point.
Q371 Fiona Bruce: What about mobile
services, where they are providing a service at some point during
Mr Davey: That's a good point.
I think if there's one mobile service, that is one access point.
The fact that it opens up for one day here, one day there and
one day somewhere else does not mean that it amounts to three
access points. That's my understanding. If I'm wrong on that,
I'll get back to you, but my understanding is that if there's
one Outreach service, that is one access point. [Interruption.]
Q372 Chair: Sorry, what was the
yes to? We'll talk among ourselves for a moment.
Mr Davey: I have clarification.
Apparently, these are the definitions from the last Government,
so I reiterate that we haven't changed those, but if a mobile
service stops at more than one place, those different access points
count towards the access criteria.
Q373 Chair: So a van that stops
once a day at five different points counts as five access points?
Mr Davey: Yes, it does, but I
still go back to the factthis is why it's so importantthat
this Government put in the £1.34 billion to secure the 11,500
Q374 Dr Whiteford: I have real
concerns about that, because although there has been some really
good innovation around providing services in rural areas, I keep
getting very mixed messages about the mobile services. It seems
to me that people who are sitting in offices assessing them have
a very positive view of them. People who have to stand outside
them cold, damp and wet have a very poor view of them. They're
concerned about the technical problems with them. They're concerned
about the very limited access they get for two hours a week, or
whatever. Generally speaking, they feel that the service is very
inadequate. I'm concerned that it's actually driving people away
because they find other ways to transact their business, so it's
driving business away from the post office, rather than towards
it. That, for me, is a very serious issue that doesn't seem to
be being heard by the people managing the service.
Mr Davey: There may well be mixed
views about it, but a lot of people and a lot of communities really
value the Outreach service. I've seen very positive evidence of
that. Our strategy isn't built on turning the Post Office Network
into one big Outreach service. Let's be absolutely clear about
it. Our core strategy is around Post Office Locals, sometimes
known as Post Office Essentials
Q375 Chair: But we're interested
particularly in rural issues and difficulties in rural areas.
[Interruption.] We now have a Division in the House.
Mr Davey: Am I allowed to come
back? How are we doing on time for you?
Chair: We're fine, thanks. I don't have
to be anywhere until 10 o'clock tonight, so as far as I'm concerned,
Mr Davey: I have a meeting at
half-past 5, but I'm very
Chair: I'm sure a member of your staff
can change that for you. I think it's a question of priorities.
Meeting a Select Committee is obviously one of them.
Mr Davey: Of course it is. Can
I say that you'll be finished with me by 6?
Chair: I'm in the hands of my colleagues.
I certainly hope so.
Mr Davey: Okay.
Can I pick up the questioning about the access points while we're
waiting for other people to come back? This is genuinely new to
us. I had not appreciated that a minibus travelling around the
country with some first-class stamps and second-class stamps in
the back and stopping at 25 different places during the course
of the week could be considered to be visiting 25 access points.
This seems to me a potential means by which the provision in rural
areas could be drastically undermined.
Mr Davey: Let me reassure you,
because that's not what the 11,500 contract is about. That's about
making sure we have at least 11,500 post offices. You should be
welcoming that, because that's a high level of guarantee of the
number of post offices funded. On these mobile post offices, let's
be clear, our policy is not about massively expanding this service.
In almost every circumstanceit is our intention to follow
the previous Government's policyit's the last resort. When
a sub-postmaster dies or retires in a village or a hamlet and
there's no one else to provide that service, in such circumstances
our experience is that communities welcome the fact that at least
there is this model that provides some services.
Q377 Chair: I do understand that.
I understand why communities in some circumstances would prefer
that to nothing at all. I completely understand that. However,
you can see how, if there are financial pressures on post officesthey
become financially unviable and closethe service is replaced
by a peripatetic van, which meanders and does a tremendous amount
of mileage, actually. Is there a minimum criterion for how long
an access point has to be open? It could be open for an hour,
so in a day the van could possibly do five different stops. You
could end up having a single van doing 25 access points a week.
Mr Davey: I will get back to you
with the criteria that the previous Government used. We are not
doing anything different from the previous Government in the access
criteria with respect to these Outreach services.
Q378 Chair: With respect, the
previous Government were not privatising it.
Mr Davey: We're not privatising
Post Office Network.
We're potentially in a different situation.
Mr Davey: We're in a much better
situation; this is the whole point. I understand the direction
of your questions, but it totally misses the fact that post offices
have a much brighter future, not least because we have given this
guarantee of a no-closure programme. We have found the money.
We have a set of policies in here that you haven't yet discussed,
which set out to make sure that business, such as Government services
and financial services, is going through the Post Office Network.
This is the point that it's really critical to think about, because
this is why the National Federation of SubPostmasters came out
in favour of the Bill. It has been so positive about our policyit
wasn't about the previous Government'sbecause the policy
set out in here gives a real prospect of real business being done
over the Post Office Network. That is how we are going to make
sure that we get a sustainable and financially viable network.
I understand that. Can I just clarify with you about the range
of services that will be offered by the peripatetic van? Presumably,
it will not be offering the whole range of services. Can you clarify
whether things such as paying bills, paying by cheque, applying
for passports and driving licences, sending larger parcels and
international mail will all be dealt with by the wandering van?
Mr Davey: I am very happy to get
you the detailed breakdown of all the services that are provided
by the wandering van. I presume the same level of service is provided
by the wandering van as in the previous Government's policy. Because
it relates to this, and because our policy isn't about extending
these Outreach services in some sort of dramatic way until we
somehow meet our access criteria by the back door, our focus is
on trying to get the post offices in set locations that people
use and recognise as post offices to be more viable. They have
to have more business going through them, and we have to change
the underlying structure. That's why we are focusing in this document
on Post Office Local.
I know you had an exchange with Postcomm over
that and they weren't able to help you so let me help you, because
it relates directly to this point about the services. From our
pilotsthere are about 52 across the country, including
some in Scotlandwe believe that about 86% of the services
that you currently get in a main post office will be accessible
through the Post Office Local. When one looks at the number of
transactions that that involves, 97% of transactions at a main
post office will be available through the Post Office Local.
All the research we have done on this Post Office
Local modelwe are piloting it to make sure we deal with
the teething problemsshows really high levels of customer
satisfaction and really high levels of operator satisfaction.
Some of the researchthe headlines of itis put out
in this paper. That's why we think this model is extremely positive.
We think it will deal with the underlying problems of the Post
Office Network in terms of its underlying economics, and turn
that around. That's why I am so confident to be able to come to
this Committee and say, "If we can develop these policies,
if we can get Post Office Local and if we can get the Government
services, the Post Office Network has a really, really positive
and prosperous future."
Q381 Chair: I understand much
of that, and I think we are supportive of moves that would provide
a service as distinct from no service. Can I just clarify whether
the wandering van to which I referred would be providing the same
service that you outlined there as being provided by Post Office
Local? There is not a tier of provision whereby the wandering
van would actually have further reduced services compared with
the Post Office Local, is there? I had previously understood,
perhaps erroneously, that Post Office Local was going to be in
a single location.
Mr Davey: It is, yes.
Chair: So the wandering vans are something
Mr Davey: Oh yes, totally.
Chair: Sorry. So you are going to clarify
for us later on the percentage of services
Mr Davey: From the wandering van.
Q382 Lindsay Roy: You talked about
new business streams. How confident are you, and what are the
key things that are going to deliver in terms of bonuses to the
Post Office Network? Why did you reject the Post Office Bank?
Mr Davey: There are two issuesthe
Government services and the financial services. First, on the
Government services, we have already announced in this policy
paper one or two of the pilots that we now want to push forward.
There is, for example, the processing of pension credit applications
that the DWP wants to pilot. There is also the print on demand
of Government forms, which you can print at your local post office
before completing them and handing them over. Those are some of
the pilots and one or two others are mentioned in this paper.
The key way that we are dealing with this is
that we are going across Whitehall and we are talking to local
authorities. I had a meeting today with Sheffield City Council,
Post Office Ltd and the LGA to try to get that engagement at the
local level as well. What we are doing is saying, "There
are three generic applications that we think are potentially helpful
for you, the Government Department, and you, the local authority,
in doing your business which will save you money and allow you
to transfer your service to the Post Office."
The first is the identity verification application,
which is already being used by the DVLA. It is working very well
with a technology infrastructure. We think it should be really
appealing to the Home Office. We think it should be really appealing
for other applications to the DVLA and to the DWP, particularly
in relation to fraud. So we think that this identify verification
application is a potential winner for getting big streams of income
into the Post Office Network. Clearly, we need some more pilots.
Of course, there will be a tender by the Department or the local
authority, but we think that the Post Office Network will be in
a very good place to win on that.
The second application is what we call in this
document, "processing," which is about trying to ensure
that citizens who want to hand in a form or some sort of Government
document can be assured that, when they do, they have filled it
in correctly and that it will get through as quickly as possible.
It is a bit like the check and send service that you have with
passports at the moment. We think that can be extended far more.
The pension credit pilot speaks to that, but there are many other
applications for both local and national Government where they
can make savings and revenue can flow to the sub-postmaster.
The final application is called "pay-out."
There are a number of forms of working it, but the main one is
when the individual is sent a letter with a barcode on it. They
take the barcode to the Post Office and it is scanned there. That
is then the authority for the sub-postmaster to pay out money.
That's had a number of applications, including with credit unions.
I know you have a credit union in Pollok in your constituency,
Those are the three applications and we think
that, as we engage with Government Departments and local authorities,
we are getting huge interest. That is why I think we can deliver
on the Government services. Clearly, the proof of the pudding
will be in the eating, but we are making some real headway, and
I hope we will be able to announce in due course some more pilots.
Q383 Lindsay Roy: It will be available
in Post Office Local and beyond, but we are not sure about the
exact nature of services in the wandering van. Can you clarify
Mr Davey: I'm told, and I have
inspiration here, that mobiles provide a full range of core servicesof
bill payments, benefit payments and mail services. We can, of
course, write with a detailed list, but I hope that reassures
you that core services are available from the wandering vans.
Q384 Chair: Ideally they would
do everything all the time in locations. That's very helpful,
but it would be helpful if you wrote to us.
Can I be clear about this question of picking
up Government business? As I understand it, the Government are
putting work out to tender with, for example, the green giros.
The Post Office might not win that contract. Isn't there an issue
here about joined-up government and whether particular Departments
like the DWP will go for the lowest tender in all circumstances
and maybe pay something through PayPal, or whether there will
be a coherent Government policy about trying to direct stuff through
post offices? How is this being tackled?
Mr Davey: I can confirm that we
are a joined-up Government; it is helpful to get that on record.
But like the last Government, we still to have to abide byyou
will be delighted about thisEU procurement rules.
Chair: It is always useful to have my
Mr Davey: If Department X has
a service and wants to put it out, it has to tender it. The real
question isthis goes into the Local modelis the
Post Office in a fit place? Is it being modernised so that it
can win some of these tenders? There are a number of issues about
that, such as cost structure, obviously, because cost is a big
part in tenders, and also quality of service. What the trial with
the Post Office Local model shows is that, on average, post offices
are open an extra six hours a day. That has an impact on the people
who can use them and on queues. So, overall, customer service
is much better. If you are a Government Department or a local
authority thinking, "Shall I contract with Post Office Ltd?",
if they have a lot of sub-post offices that are now open for longer
hours with shorter queues and a better customer experience, you
are much more likely to go with that. Part of the strategy in
the modernisation of the network is aimed at putting the Post
Office Network in a position that is likelier to win contracts
in the future.
Q385 Fiona O'Donnell: Lindsay
rightly identified that part of the security for the National
Federation of SubPostmasters was about new work from the Government.
The other part was about the IBA. Now we've had Moya Greene say
that she is happy to sign one for 10 years. That's what the sub-postmasters
are saying they want. Are you supportive of 10 years?
Mr Davey: We have said very clearly
that this is a matter for Post Office Ltd and Royal Mail, just
as it has been in the past. In the past, the Government did not
intervene in the negotiations, which can go into a huge amount
of detail. I am told that the contract was well over 100 pagesbut
I haven't seen it, and I'm not allowed tothe last time
Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd struck a contract. Post Office
Ltd and Royal Mail, going forward, can enter into a new contract,
but that is for them. We are putting nothing in the way. It is
totally up to them to negotiate and agree on a contract.
Q386 Fiona O'Donnell: But Ian McKay from
Royal Mail said that it is unthinkable that the two of them could
Mr Davey: No. If he was quoting
Moya Greene, she didn't say it would be unthinkable that they
could be separated, but that it would be unthinkable that Royal
Mail wouldn't use the Post Office Network.
Fiona O'Donnell: We will look back at
the transcript. I remember thinking that it was kind of ironic
that he said that when that was precisely what the Government
David Mowat: I think that was the meaning
of what he said.
Q387 Fiona O'Donnell: Yes. In
any case, Royal Mail is a public service, even though it is going
into private ownership. I can hear that you're committed to maintaining
that level of service, but how can you sit on the fence on the
length of the IBA when the Federation of SubPostmasters is saying
that that is core to the sustainability of the Post Office Network?
Mr Davey: Because you don't write
into law detailed, negotiated contracts between two independent
companies. If you want to find me a legal precedent, which you
won't be able to, I'd be interested.
Q388 Fiona O'Donnell: I'm not
asking you to put it into law. I'm just saying: can't you even
express an opinion or tell us why it has not been signed yet?
Why don't we have that agreement?
Mr Davey: There is an agreement
at the moment, and it runs for several more years. Let me express
an opinion, as you invited me to. I was delighted when the chairman
of Royal Mail Group, Donald Brydon, said in evidence to the Postal
Services Bill CommitteeI am not sure that this is a verbatim
quotethat before separation, they would negotiate the longest
legally permissible inter-business agreement. I thought that that
would be very reassuring for people who are worried about this.
Q389 Fiona O'Donnell: I think
that the National Federation of SubPostmasters, in its letter
to Iain Duncan Smith, is concerned about the new work stream and
the IBA, but let's hope that all turns out well. May I ask about
employee share ownership of Royal Mail? What is the percentage
Mr Davey: The Bill makes it clear
that it will be at least 10%.
Q390 Fiona O'Donnell: At least
10%. Will those shares be protected? Will they remain in employee
ownership, or is it possible that the employees will all sell
Mr Davey: We've left how we deliver
on the 10% flexible, and there is a reason for that. We want to
ensure that Royal Mail employees, and future investors and so
on, can be part of the discussion about how that is delivered,
but it is fair to say that I, personally, and the Government are
keen to ensure that there is longevity in employee share ownership.
Fiona O'Donnell: Good.
Mr Davey: I would be concerned
if we did anything that resulted in employees not having a long-term
interest through their shares in Royal Mail. That is what we want
Q391 Fiona O'Donnell: Have you
considered the Post Office Network owning a percentage of the
shares and protecting that for them in a similar way?
Mr Davey: I think we've gone further
with the Post Office Network to the extent that we've made it
possible in the Bill, in clause 7, for there to be a mutual Post
Office Network. Let me be clear about what that is, because it
is sometimes confusing for people. Post Office Ltd is the national
body, which has the franchises and hands them down to the individuals
or groups. It has the intellectual property, the contracts and
so on, and it earns money from things such as websites. That is
currently in 100% Crown ownership. The individual post offices
are individually owned by a private entrepreneur or, as agentsthe
Co-op has a range of them, as does WH Smith, and there are a few
community-owned post offices. We are not changing their ownership.
Mutualisation is about only the national mutualthe mother
mutual, if you like.
Q392 Fiona O'Donnell: Sorry, I
don't think you've understood. I was asking about share ownership
of Royal Mail by the Post Office-operated mutual.
Mr Davey: It was a long way to
answer you, so I apologise. It is important that people aren't
confused about mutualisation. I was trying to say what we envisage
from the mother mutualPost Office Ltd. We are getting advice
from Co-operatives UK and it will then go out to national consultation.
We envisage that sub-postmasters will clearly have a very important
share in that, and there can be others as well, possibly along
the co-operative model. Your question is: could they buy shares
in Royal Mail? If Royal Mail is floated and listed on the stock
market, and those shares are traded, potentially they could.
Q393 Fiona O'Donnell: Did you
consider protecting share ownership for them given the importance
of the relationship between the Post Office Network and Royal
Mr Davey: Individual sub-postmasters
could buy shares if they wanted to, and so could individualsit
is not just a mutual model. If it is listed and if it is through
an IPO, they could choose to buy shares. I think that it would
be odd for Government to say, in legislation, that people in another
company should be given shares in Royal Mail. That would seem
a little odd. They are not employees of Royal Mail, and our commitment,
both in our manifesto and in the coalition agreement, is for employee
shares and not for shares in another organisation.
Chair: I think that we have just about
thrashed everything to death. Are there any other questions? I
thank you all for coming along. I will let you go just in time
for your meeting at 6 o'clock. You have been very frank in your
answers, and we have all appreciated it.
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