Royal Mail has denied it is prioritising lucrative parcel contracts over letter deliveries as many parts of the UK are suffering from a slow postal service.
While insiders at two major sorting offices told i the privatised postal group was focusing on parcel deliveries in order to fight off competition from other providers, Royal Mail said the reasons for tackling parcels first were due to Covid-enforced staff shortages and a requirement to clear space at its distribution centres.
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One Royal Mail manager based at a mail centre in the north west of England said staff had been instructed to prioritise parcel deliveries ahead of letters as Covid-19 lockdowns had led to a surge in online orders.
He said: “Royal Mail does have some competition on letter delivery, but it faces far more competitors in the parcel delivery market, and it makes sense from a commercial perspective to focus on parcels at the expenses of letters.”
Staff shortages and higher volume
Another manager working in a London sorting office said staff there had been given the same instructions.
Under Ofcom regulations, Royal Mail must deliver 93 per cent of its first-class post nationwide within a day of collection.
However, rather than letters being delayed for commercial reasons, Royal Mail said staff shortages and higher volumes of mail during the lockdown have caused the delays.
In an attempt to counter staff absences due to Covid-19, Royal Mail has retained around 10,000 temporary Christmas workers and offered additional overtime to existing employees, as well as hiring 6,000 additional vehicles and keeping four temporary Parcel Sort Centres open.
A spokesman for Royal Mail said: “Across the UK, our people are working hard to deliver as comprehensive a service as possible to all our customers in challenging circumstances.
“Despite our best endeavours, it is possible that some areas of the country may experience a reduction in service levels due to higher volumes of mail during the lockdown, the ongoing impact of Covid-related staff absences and necessary social distancing measures at local mail centres and delivery offices.”
Another source at Royal Mail’s head office in London said parcels were sometimes prioritised, but only to clear space in the sorting offices to avoid safety issues and delays to other mail. He said the group continued to prioritise Covid-19 vaccination letters, as well as items such as personal protective equipment to care homes and virus test kits.
Royal Mail’s operations were placed into an “emergency period” at the beginning of the pandemic, and regulator Ofcom said the firm’s operations continue to be “materially impacted” by the health crisis.
In particular, Ofcom has recognised that ongoing social distancing requirements have had “a significant impact on its operational capacity and service levels”.
The Royal Mail spokesman added: “Royal Mail is focused on delivering the most comprehensive service we can in challenging conditions.”
Slow post : the areas suffering mail delays
Royal Mail has identified 28 areas of the UK suffering from limited delivery services because significant numbers of staff are either suffering from Covid-19 or are self-isolating.
The areas – 27 in England and one in Northern Ireland – include 13 in or around London, with others including West Yorkshire, Essex, Cheshire and Kent.
The issue has prompted calls from MPs and the Communication Workers Union for postal workers to be added to the vaccination priority list.
A spokesman for Royal Mail said: “The combination of greatly increased uptake of online shopping, and the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, mean that all delivery companies are experiencing exceptionally high volumes.
“Every single parcel and letter is important to us. Despite our best efforts and significant investment in extra resource, some customers may experience slightly longer delivery timescales than our usual service standards.
The 28 areas are: Ashford, Barnsley, Basildon, Bow, Bury St Edmunds, Chelmsford, Christchurch, Daventry, Debden, Enfield, Grays, Hampton, Highbury, Hornsey, Horsham, Ilford, Leeds City, Lewisham, Magherafelt, Margate, Rugeley, Somerton, South Ockendon, South Woodford, Upper Holloway, Wandsworth, Wellington, Widnes.
— to inews.co.uk