A royal mess

The Daily Mail reports today that Royal Mail could be fined up to £40million for an alleged scam that Royalmailap_468x338 aimed to fudge findings from efficiency reports. An independent research company chose panels and these people then sent letters to each other – containing the name and address of the sender – so they could then gauge how quickly this post would arrive at the intended address.

It is suspected that Royal Mail staff members were unintentionally selected on the panels, and let colleagues in on the research. These letters were then identified in sorting offices, and more panellists’ names were gathered. The relevant addresses and post boxes were then targeted for extra-speedy service. Good results meant falsely inflated efficiency figures, which meant bigger bonuses for bosses. Postcomm is now investigating the suspected scam. During this process one would assume that post had been opened and re-sealed, constituting a criminal offence.

Legal issues aside, this alleged incident shines a light on a variety of problems: the masked inefficiencies of Royal Mail; the pressure of targets and box-ticking; the over-inflated bonuses awarded to undeserving bosses. We have commented before on the proposals to part-privatise the Royal Mail, and the supposed ‘improved efficiency’ of the organisation which has cast doubt on the plans for reform. The work of a whistleblower may have exposed some unwelcome truths about the service, and if efficiency figures are based on bogus research then the case for reform will be bolstered.

As for the bonuses paid to senior management for ‘good performance’, it is scandalous that any rewards could be the consequence of a possible con. You can be sure that if the plot had been uncovered earlier, then it would have been the staff in the sorting office taking all of the blame, with management conveniently clueless about the whole affair. Perhaps most egregiously, staff from Scotland – where the scam supposedly originated – apparently briefed other offices about it, perpetuating the deception.

Even if the allegations are false, there will still be a serious need to look again at the organisation’s infrastructure to determine its future. The independent research carried out – at taxpayers’ expense – clearly lacked rigorous methodology and was open to abuse. If any wrongdoing is discovered then it is right that the regulator suitably punishes Royal Mail; it will also be right to reconsider its relationship with the state.  

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