Fears for the future of Royal Mail and the potentially devastating impact on rural areas have been raised this week.
The universal service obligation (USO) offered by the company, which was privatised from October 2013, sees delivery for a single price across the UK, six days every week.
Now, however, this is under threat as postal competitors cherry pick the most lucrative routes in urban areas, leaving Royal Mail with the more expensive rural services, according to chief executive Moya Greene who gave evidence to the business select committee in the House of Commons this week.
Concerns have been put forward from several organisations, including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), claiming that people living and working in rural areas across the country would suffer if the USO was forced to end.
Wetherby Coun Gerald Wilkinson (Con) is similarly worried. He said: “The Royal Mail postal service has been the back bone of this country for centuries and it just seems unfair that companies should be cherry-picking the best routes and disregarding those people who don’t live in the larger cities.
“It’s hard to say whether this could have been predicted when Royal Mail started to be privatised, and though some businesses in rural areas will be effected, most are in the densely populated areas.
“It is the case, however, that people living in rural areas who already feel isolated will feel the most impact. It is totally unfair that they should be victimised in this way.”
Ofcom, the postal regulator, has been asked to step in to put measures in place to ensure Royal Mail can still make the required profits to continue delivery to all areas.
If it doesn’t, however, and the threat to the USO continues to grow, rural services will suffer, says CLA north regional director Dorothy Fairburn.
“Without the daily post, rural services already under significant strain will be seriously undermined,” she said.
“Any suggestion that Royal Mail is seeking to amend or possibly abolish the USO in the future is a serious threat to everyone living and working in the countryside.”
The CLA, which represents thousands of landowners, farmers, and rural businesses, is set to write to Ofcom calling for serious consideration of extending of USO to other operators in the postal market.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Royal Mail is fully committed to the six-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere universal postal service to all 29 million UK addresses.
“We are asking Ofcom to bring forward its planned review of direct delivery and put in place measures to address the threat it poses to the financial sustainability of the USO.”