We were recently asked to deliver an insulting letter. Insulting to us as postal workers, that is, not to our customers. It was an advertising circular from Clifford James (established 1970), announcing their January sale. The insult was a statement on the front of the bright red envelope.
The letter was an item of downstream access mail relayed through a private mail company called Secured Mail (I’d never heard of them before), and underneath the frank there was a label, ‘Beat the POST!’, across an image of a speeding van. And underneath: ‘Our products are delivered by private courier NOT ROYAL MAIL.’
The capital letters are all their own. According to Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, the Royal Mail subsidises the private mail companies at a rate of about 2p per letter. So not only do they take the profitable trade away, leaving the Royal Mail with the expensive and difficult universal service obligation, but the Royal Mail actually pays them to do this.
One of the guys in the office took a Clifford James envelope to the line manager. The line manager apologised, but insisted that we had to deliver it anyway: ‘It’s paid-for mail.’