How Rowland Hill Turns in His Grave


Following up an earlier post of mine “Use the Green Stick, Mr Postman!” and how unfriendly competition in the delivery market actually is from the point of view of the environment and the actual service to the customer (us!), the recent news of a  Delivery firm’s 686 jobs at risk should be taken with a pinch of salt and examined closely.

Home Delivery Network (HDN), an amalgam of catalogue, pools and white van delivery folk pipes up today that jobs will have to go.  This is part of the “solution” to the “Post Office crisis” that various governments have sought to rid themselves.  Others are Citylink, DHL, Amtrack etc.  They are all posturing to grab the best bits of the Post Office’s business while leaving the donkey work to the taxpayer’s employees, the postmen.

However, it’s not the first time that HDN have said this.  Way back in the middle of the boom, ages before the Credit Crunch and recession, they whipped out a similar story;  Job cut concerns at delivery firm. This was for 600+ jobs in 2005!

Call me cynical, but if they can’t make money just competing for the cream of the work, how will they manage in future?

History Lesson

Rowland Hill

Way back in the early 1800’s, the “post” as it was called was a competetive business.  Official government stuff went by couriers called “The Royal Mail” and everyone else paid a hefty premium to go the same route or paid huge amounts dependant on distance, weight and size.  People paid pounds! This was at a time when bread cost a penny and 10 shillings was a good wage.  There was much corruption, mail went missing for various reasons and it took ages to get anywhere.

Rowland Hill is credited with reforming all of that to end up with the modern fast postal system that people could rely on and for which people were proud to work.  This lasted from 1840 until the 1980’s.  When Thatcher got in of course, she and her ilk poisoned everyone’s minds with ideas of competition and the free market, a legacy that Blair et al have expanded upon.

When the post-as-we-know-it started, it cost a penny (The Penny Post) to send a letter any distance in the UK.  This was radical and it was cheap, if you were middle class.  In real terms for the bulk of the population, it was the same as a loaf of bread.

But the service boomed and like Rowland Hill imagined, it soon paid for itself.

A decent loaf today costs about a pound, whereas to post a letter is less than half that.   But now, somehow people whinge and think it’s too much! Yet the same people will happily hop in a car, spend 50p on petrol, and all for a £5 jumbo kebab.

Priorities are definately wrong.

The Delivery Market

What successive governments have done in the pursuit of making a stamp even cheaper, is make the actual service, you know, the service that you and me get when stuff (possibly) comes through the letterbox,… worse.

This makes it less likely that people will use the service and instead, they turn to the cowboys like HDN and Amtrack, Citylink and TNT, who cream off the business mail (aka junk mail), removing a huge revenue stream from our valuable normal postal service.  They in turn have to reduce costs, close offices, reduce staff, reduce deliveries and increase charges.

It’s a vicious downward spiral and the eventual losers are us, the customers; and us, the employees; and us, the taxpayers.

For parcels, the companies compete against Parcel Force, who used to have a network of wonderfully handy offices, open till late, where undelivered items could be easily collected.  This is seriously undermined nowadays.

  • For a company like Dabs or M&S, the costs are about 50p less for a small parcel.
  • For us customers, we have to travel 70 miles (in Citylink’s case) to collect undeliverable items!

This is 2 gallons of fuel – about a tenner.

So for Dabs or M&S to save 50p, we have to pay £10.  And remember, when we buy something online, we are paying the delivery cost.  If we have to collect it, we have to pay again!


I hope HDN and everyone like it all go bust as soon as possible – or at least stop their operations in the area of postal deliveries.  Union people like;

  • Bob Shaw, national secretary for transport at the T&G;
  • Unite national officer Julia Long;
  • and Usdaw national officer, Irene Radigan;

–  they’ve got it all wrong.  Instead of weaselly worrying about a few local workers, they should instead look at the broader picture of a diminished and collapsing postal delivery service that does no-one any good, not least their members and not least the nation …

  • The postal service has an already existing network of handy local offices, ideally placed to pick up the ever burgeoning business from internet buying.
  • The postal service is efficiently set up to minimise environmental damage from the excess travel required when using independant carriers.  These costs are never factored into the big picture.  Like air transport, it should be the total costs that count.
  • The lost jobs (if it actually happens) at HDN should be easily taken up by a proper national postal delivery service.  After all, the parcels that HDN delivers will still need delivering by someone!

In short, don’t carve up the service – make it bigger and better!

By Strangely

Founding member of the gifted & talented band, "The Crawling Chaos" from the North-East of England.


  1. And today we have it! Despite the mysterious £288 million profit, the government still wants to sell off Royal Mail.
    . The question is, “Is it a Real Profit or a paper profit to make the company look and appear floggable?”

    It’s a no-brainer really.

    The real issue is the historical and continuing skimming of profitable activities that leave rthe core business short of working capital. No other European contry has done this ritual hari-kari of it’s postal network – what’s so special (or mad) about the UK?

    An excuse was given that if RM isn’t sold, all the workers and pensioners will lose their pensions!!!! Mail pensions ‘facing collapse’. This is the most appalling blackmail in the service of piss-poor management since – well, last month actually, and every month since the credit crunch fiasco exploded in everyone’s faces.

    As always it’s the poor that get to suffer AND take the blame for incompetent planning and the management thereof.

    MPs’ pensions are safe though. Phew! So that’s okay.

Comments are closed.