- Royal Mail
Royal Mail Holdings plc Type State-Owned Limited company Industry Postal service Founded 1516 Headquarters London, England Area served UK / Worldwide Key people Donald Brydon, Chairman
Moya Greene, CEO
Services Postal/Parcel delivery/Collecting Net income £300,000,000 Owner(s) HM Government Employees 176,000 Divisions Royal Mail
Subsidiaries Post Office Ltd
General Logistics Systems
Royal Mail is the government-owned postal service in the United Kingdom. Royal Mail Holdings plc owns Royal Mail Group Limited, which in turn operates the brands Royal Mail (UK letters) and Parcelforce Worldwide (UK parcels). Post Office Ltd, which provides counter services, and General Logistics Systems are wholly owned subsidiaries.
Royal Mail Holdings is a public limited company in which the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills owns 50,004 ordinary shares plus 1 special share, and the Treasury Solicitor holds 1 ordinary share.
Historically, the General Post Office was a government department which included the Royal Mail delivery business, represented in government by the Postmaster General, a Cabinet-level post. It became a statutory corporation known as the Post Office in 1969. Most of the duties were passed to Consignia plc, a public limited company wholly owned by the UK government, in November 2001 and the old Post Office was dissolved in 2007. Consignia changed to Consignia Holdings plc, then Royal Mail Holdings plc, the current name.
Royal Mail was not privatised in the 1980s or 1990s, and currently remains a state-owned company. However this is set to change with the passing of the Postal Services Act 2011, which allows the government to privatise up to 90% of Royal Mail, with 10% being held by Royal Mail employees. Post Office Ltd will be separated from Royal Mail Group and will remain in public ownership or be mutualised.
Royal Mail is responsible for universal mail collection and delivery in the UK. Letters are deposited in a pillar or wall box, taken to a post office, or collected in bulk from businesses. Deliveries are made at least once every day except Sundays and Bank Holidays at uniform charges for all destinations within the UK. First Class deliveries are generally made the next business day throughout the UK.
Royal Mail delivered 84 million items every working day and had a network of 14,376 post offices with a revenue of £9.056 billion, and profits before tax were £312 million in 2006. Since that time, profits have dropped year on year – £233 million in 2006-7 falling to a £10 million trading deficit in 2007. In 2008, the BBC reported that Royal Mail's trading position had worsened to an annual loss of £279 million/yr in financial 2007. For the financial year 2008-9 Royal Mail had an operating profit of £321m, with all four group businesses in a full year profit for the first time in two decades.
In Wales, the service carries the Welsh name Post Brenhinol, as well as the English name. Both names are normally used on vans, postboxes etc. It is also compulsory for all Post Offices in Wales to have the name Swyddfa'r Post on display outside. Post Offices in Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland, such as the Hebrides and parts of the Highlands, also display the name Oifis a' Phuist ("Post Office").
In the 1640s Parliament removed the monopoly from Witherings and during the Civil War and First Commonwealth the parliamentary postal service was run at great profit for himself by Edmund Prideaux (a prominent parliamentarian and lawyer who rose to be attorney-general). To keep his monopoly in those troubled times Prideaux improved efficiency and used both legal impediments and illegal methods.
In 1653 Parliament set aside all previous grants for postal services, and contracts were let for the inland and foreign mails to John Manley. Manley was given a monopoly on the postal service, which was effectively enforced by Protector Oliver Cromwell's government, and thanks to the improvements necessitated by the war Manley ran a much improved Post Office service. In July 1655 the Post Office was put under the direct government control of John Thurloe, a Secretary of State, and best known to history as Cromwell's spymaster general. Previous English governments had tried to prevent conspirators communicating, Thurloe preferred to deliver their post having surreptitiously read it. As the Protectorate claimed to govern all of Great Britain and Ireland under one unified government, on 9 June 1657 the Second Protectorate Parliament (which included Scottish and Irish MPs) passed the "Act for settling the Postage in England, Scotland and Ireland" that created one monopoly Post Office for the whole territory of the Commonwealth.
At the restoration of the monarchy, in 1660, all the ordinances and acts passed by parliaments during the Civil War and the Interregnum passed into oblivion, so the General Post Office (GPO) was officially established by Charles II in 1660.
Between 1719 and 1763, Ralph Allen, Postmaster at Bath, signed a series of contracts with the post office to develop and expand Britain's postal network. He organised mail coaches which were provided by both Wilson & Company of London and Williams & Company of Bath. The early Royal Mail Coaches were similar to ordinary family coaches but with Post Office livery.
Uniform penny postage
In December 1839 the first substantial reform started when postage rates were revised by the short-lived Uniform Fourpenny Post. Greater changes took place when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced on 10 January 1840 whereby a single rate for delivery anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland was pre-paid by the sender. A few months later, to certify that postage had been paid on a letter, the sender could affix the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black that was available for use from 6 May the same year. Other innovations were the introduction of pre-paid William Mulready designed postal stationery letter sheets and envelopes.
As the United Kingdom was the first country to issue prepaid postage stamps, British stamps are the only stamps that do not bear the name of the country of issue on them.
By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day.
Traditionally UK post boxes carried the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation: in this case VR for Victoria Regina or in the case of a male regent, e.g., GR for George Rex. This is now only applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Such branding is not used in Scotland due to dispute over the current monarch's title (Queen Elizabeth II should have simply been Queen Elizabeth as there had been no previous Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, only of England and Wales). Pillar boxes in Scotland are simply marked "Post Office". Pillar boxes and other Royal Mail Group street furniture are maintained by Romec Ltd, a company part owned by Royal Mail Group.
Contrary to urban myth, Royal Mail does not own the trademark on the colour red, but a specific shade of the colour red: "Royal Mail, the Royal Mail Cruciform, the colour red (as part of the Royal Mail logotype) and SmartStamp are all registered trademarks of Royal Mail Group plc."
Under the Post Office Act 1969 the General Post Office was changed from a government department to a statutory corporation, known simply as the Post Office. The office of Postmaster General was abolished and replaced with the positions of Chairman and Chief Executive in the new company.
During the 1980s both British Telecom and Girobank were split off from the Post Office and sold, however the postal services section remained in public ownership as privatisation of this was deemed to be too unpopular. However in the 1990s President of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine began investigating a possible sale and eventually a Green Paper on Postal Reform was published in May 1994, outlining various options for privatisation. The ideas though, proved controversial and were dropped from the 1994 Queen's Speech after a number of Conservative MPs warned Heseltine they would not vote for the legislation.
After a change of government in 1997, the Labour administration decided to keep the Post Office state-owned but with more commercial freedom. This led to the Postal Services Act 2000, where the Post Office became a public limited company renamed Consignia plc. However, the change proved to be highly unpopular with both the public and even the organisation's own employees, with the Communication Workers Union boycotting the name. In 2002, the organisation adopted the name of the letters delivery business, becoming Royal Mail Group plc with the following operating divisions:
- Royal Mail, delivering letters
- Parcelforce, delivering parcels
- Post Office Limited, managing the nationwide network of post office branches as retail outlets.
As part of the 2000 Act the government set up a postal regulator, the Postal Services Commission, known as Postcomm, which offered licences to private companies to deliver mail. In 2001, the Consumer Council for Postal Services, known as Postwatch, was created for consumers to express any concerns they may have with the postal service in the UK.
From 1 January 2006, the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly and the UK postal market became fully open to competition.
On 1 October 2008, Postwatch was merged into the new consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus.
In 2008, due to a continuing fall in mail volumes the government commissioned an independent review of the postal services sector by Richard Hooper, the former deputy chairman of Ofcom. The recommendations in the Hooper Review led to Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to seek to part privatise the company by selling a minority stake to a commercial partner. However despite legislation for the sale passing the House of Lords, it was abandoned in the House of Commons after strong opposition from backbench Labour MPs. The government later cited the difficult economic conditions for the reason behind the retreat.
Following the 2010 general election the new Business Secretary in the Coalition government, Vince Cable, asked Richard Hooper to update his report. Based on the Hooper Review Update the government passed the Postal Services Act 2011. The Act allows for up to 90% of Royal Mail to be privatised with at least 10% of shares being held by Royal Mail employees. Post Office Ltd will be separated from Royal Mail and will remain in public ownership or possibly be mutualised. The government is also to take over the assets and liabilities of the Royal Mail pension scheme.
As part of the 2011 Act, Postcomm was merged into the communications regulator Ofcom on 1 October 2011.
- 1516: Royal Mail established by Henry VIII under Master of the Posts.
- 1635: Royal Mail service first made available to the public by Charles I.
- 1654: Oliver Cromwell grants monopoly over service in England to "Office of Postage".
- 1657: Fixed postal rates introduced.
- 1660: General Post Office (GPO) officially established by Charles II.
- 1661: First use of date stamp. First Postmaster General appointed.
- 1784: First Mail coach (between Bristol and London).
- 1793: First uniformed delivery staff. Post Office Investigation Branch formed, the oldest recognised criminal investigations authority in the world.
- 1830: First mail train (on Liverpool and Manchester Railway).
- 1838: Post Office Money order system introduced.
- 1839: Uniform Fourpenny Post introduced.
- 1840: Uniform Penny Post introduced.
- 1840: First adhesive stamp (the Penny Black).
- 1852: First Post Office pillar box erected (in Jersey).
- 1853: First post boxes erected in mainland Britain.
- 1857: First wall boxes installed Shrewsbury and Market Drayton
- 1863: First trial of the London Pneumatic Despatch Company to send mail by underground rail between postal depots.
- 1870: Post Office begins telegraph service.
- 1870: Post Office Act banned sending of `indecent or obscene` literature; introduced the ½d rate for postcards; banned the use of cut-outs from postal stationery; introduced the ½d rate for newspapers; provided for the issue of newspaper wrappers.
- 1880: First use of bicycles to deliver mail.
- 1881: Postal order introduced.
- 1882: Army Post Office Corps formed from GPO employees (see British Forces Post Office)
- 1883: Parcel post begins.
- 1894: First picture postcards.
- 1912: Post Office opens national telephone service.
- 1919: First international airmail service developed by Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and Royal Air Force.
- 1927: Opening of the London Post Office Railway
- 1941: Airgraph service introduced between UK and Egypt. The service was later extended to: Canada (1941), East Africa (1941), Burma (1942), India (1942), South Africa (1942), Australia (1943), New Zealand (1943) Ceylon (1944) and Italy (1944).
- 1941: Aerogram service introduced.
- 1968: Two-class postal system introduced. National Giro bank opens.
- 1969: General Post Office changes from government department to nationalised industry.
- 1971: Postal services in Great Britain were suspended for two months between January and March as the result of a national postal strike over a pay claim.
- 1974: Postcodes extended over all UK.
- 1981: Post Office Telecommunications services split out as British Telecom.
- 1986: Separated businesses of delivering letters, delivering parcels and operating post offices.
- 1988: Postal workers hold their first national strike for 17 years after walking out over bonuses being paid to recruit new workers in London and the South East.
- 1989: Royal Mail establishes Romec (Royal Mail Engineering & Construction) to deliver Facilities Maintenance services to its business. Romec becomes owned 51% by Royal Mail and 49% by Haden Business Management Ltd in a joint venture.
- 1990: Girobank sold to the Alliance & Leicester Building Society.
- 1990: Royal Mail Parcels re-branded as Parcelforce.
- 1999: A new business: Royal Mail ViaCode – or ViaCode Limited – was launched. This wholly owned subsidiary of the Post Office offered online encryption services to businesses, using "digital certificate" technology. The short-lived venture was wound up in 2002.
- 2004: Reduction of deliveries to once daily. Travelling post office ("Mail Trains") end. SmartStamp is introduced.
- 2005: Mail Trains re-introduced on some lines.
- 2006: Royal Mail loses its monopoly when the regulator, Postcomm, opens up the Postal Market 3 years ahead of the rest of Europe. Competitors can carry mail, and pass it to Royal Mail for delivery, a service known as Downstream access. Also introduces Pricing in Proportion (PiP) for first and second class inland mail.
- 2006: Online postage allows Royal Mail customers to pay for postage on the web, without the need to buy traditional stamps.
- 2007: Royal Mail Group plc becomes Royal Mail Group Ltd in a slight change of legal status.
- 2007: Official Industrial Action takes place over pay, conditions and pensions.
- 2007: Sunday collections from pillar boxes end.
- 2009: (September) CWU opens national ballot for industrial action.
- 2010: Bicycles begin to be phased out due to health and safety issues, 130 years after they were first used.
- 2010 (6 December): Hitherto free services were removed from the Inland Letter Post Scheme and became available under contract: Callers Service, Forwarding, Petitions to the Sovereign and to Parliament, Poste Restante, Private Post Box, Private Roadside Letterbox.
The General Post Office introduced telegraph services in 1870 and telephone services in 1912. It took over nearly all of the UK's municipal telephone companies (the sole exception being Kingston Communications in Hull) and was responsible for the resultant telephone network until British Telecommunications (BT) was demerged by the British Telecommunications Act 1981. BT was later privatised in 1984.
The National Girobank was introduced in 1968 and sold to Alliance & Leicester in 1990. The government run National Savings and Investments (founded in 1861 as the Post Office Savings Bank) is also operated through Post Office branches.
Historically, many government benefits and state retirement pensions were paid in cash through the post office network. However, in recent years, an increasing proportion of benefit and pension payments have been made directly by bank transfer, leading to a loss of revenue for Post Office branches and many closures.
The Royal Mail is regulated by Ofcom, while consumer interests are represented by Consumer Focus. The relationship between the two bodies' predecessors (Postcomm and Postwatch) was not always good, and in 2005, Postwatch took Postcomm to judicial review over its decision regarding rebates to late-paying customers.
Although now a private company, the Royal Mail enjoys special protection under Government legislation which severely limits consumer rights. Under the Postal Services Act 2000, the Royal Mail is under no contractual obligation to deliver most mail, including special delivery items. In addition, no court action can be taken against the Royal Mail more than 12 months after an item is posted.
Royal Mail has, in some quarters, a poor reputation for losing mail despite more than 99.93% of mail arriving safely and in 2006 was fined £11.7 million due to the amount of mail lost, stolen or damaged. According to Home Office figures from 2002 up to a million letters a week were lost or delivered to the wrong address.
Royal Mail has been at the centre of a number of industrial disputes during its history – notably the national wildcat strikes in 2003 and a seven-week strike in 1971. By Autumn 2007, disputes began to escalate into industrial action. In mid October unions and management agreed a resolution to the dispute.
In December 2008, workers at Mail Centres affected by proposals to rationalise the number of Mail Centres (particularly in North West England) again voted for strike action on Friday 19 December, potentially affecting Christmas deliveries. The action was postponed less than 24 hours before staff were due to walk out.
Localised strikes have taken place across the UK from June 2009 and these have grown in frequency throughout the summer. There is currently a ballot on national industrial action, over Royal Mail's failure to reach a national agreement covering protection of jobs, pay, terms and conditions and the cessation of managerial executive action. The result will be known by 9 October 2009.
Royal Mail is famous for its custom load-carrying bicycles (with the rack and basket built into the frame), made by Pashley Cycles since 1971. Since 2000, their old bikes have been shipped to Africa by Re~Cycle (10,000 as of 2008[update]). In 2009, Royal Mail announced it was beginning to phase out bicycle deliveries, to be replaced with more push-trolleys and vans. A spokesman said that they would continue to use bicycles on some rural routes, and that there was no plan to phase out bicycles completely.
In addition to running a large number of road vehicles, Royal Mail uses trains, a ship and some aircraft, with an air hub at East Midlands Airport.
The following aircraft are included in the dedicated fleet:
British Airways aircraft are also used for airmail deliveries and bear a small Royal Mail logo towards the rear of the fuselage.
The RMS St Helena is a cargo and passenger ship that serves the British overseas territory of Saint Helena. It sails between Cape Town and Saint Helena, Ascension Island and occasionally Walvis Bay, Namibia. It also visits the Isle of Portland, England twice per year stopping at Tenerife en-route. It is the last dedicated Royal Mail Ship in service.
The Royal Mail runs, alongside its stamped mail services, another sector of post called business mail. The large majority of Royal Mail's business mail service is for PPI or franked mail, where the sender prints their own 'stamp'. For PPI mail this involves either a simple rubber stamp and an ink pad, or a printed label. For franked mail, a dedicated franking machine is used.
Bulk business mail attracts reduced prices if the sender prints an RM4SCC barcode, or prints the address in a specified position on the envelope using a font readable by optical character recognition (OCR) equipment. There are no facilities to read addresses in these formats from general mail.
- Postage stamps and postal history of Great Britain
- Royal Mail rubber band
- Royal Mail Ship
- Australia Post – created in 1901 to replace the colonial post offices in Australia
- Canada Post – created in 1867 to replace the Royal Mail services in Canada; Royal Mail references in Canada disappeared after the 1960s
- Guernsey Post
- Hongkong Post – created in 1870 to replace the Royal Mail services in British Hong Kong (1841–1870); Royal Mail references in Hong Kong disappear after the handover in 1997
- Isle of Man Post
- Jersey Post
- United States Postal Service
References and sources
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- Browne, Christopher (1993). Getting the Message – The Story of the British Post Office. Alan Sutton. ISBN 0750903511.
- A brief history of the Post Office – A GPO public relations publication 1965
- Royal mail chat, a forum for postal workers
- Royal Mail official website
- Post Office official website
- Royal Mail Group plc
- Royal Mail Group – About us: Facts
- The British Postal Museum & Archive – Our history through the post
- Postwatch – The Consumer Council for Postal Services
- Postcomm – regulator for postal services in the UK
- Monopolies and Mergers Commission – The organisation of the Post Office and its letter post operations (September 1984)
- Hellmail – Covers news stories about Royal Mail and other European postal operators
- Bath Postal Museum
- Mailroom News
- Inside Whitchurch, Hampshire Delivery Office on the day it was shut (2 May 2009)
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