Royal Mail must face a new Ofcom investigation after “systemically failing to deliver” on its legal obligation to deliver letters to UK addresses six days a week, MPs said.
MPs referred the postal business to the regulator after uncovering “widespread evidence” of the company prioritising the more lucrative parcels service over letters.
Millions of customers failed to receive mail including vital legal and medical information over Christmas. An increasingly bitter dispute over pay and conditions leading to strikes has made delivery problems even more acute.
MPs on the Commons Business Select Committee called on the postal services regulator, Ofcom, to open an enforcement investigation into Royal Mail’s universal service delivery obligations and report back by the end of the year.
Royal Mail, which says it is losing £1m a day, denied to the committee that parcels were prioritised over letters.
The MPs report that after Royal Mail boss Simon Thompson said the claims were “absolutely not true”, postal workers from across the country sent the committee photographs of posters and handwritten sheets, and audio and video recordings, all showing local managers “giving essentially the same instructions to prioritise parcels.“
MPs were so troubled by some of Mr Thompson’s evidence, the Committee took the “very unusual step” of recalling Royal Mail to “clarify or correct the public record”.
“In doing so, we used the procedures available to us to ask witnesses to take the oath, in order to stress the importance of giving answers to the Committee that are wholly truthful,” the report says.
Labour MP Darren Jones, the committee chair, whose clash with Mr Thompson went viral on social media during the MPs’ inquiry, said: “I find it hard to believe that such widespread breaches of company policy and legal obligations are down to a national network of rogue workers conspiring against management at Royal Mail.
“We were inundated with evidence from postal workers challenging the accuracy of answers given by Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson.
“Frankly, the failures in company policy which Mr Thompson has admitted to can only be due to either an unacceptable level of incompetence or an unacceptable level of cluelessness about what is happening at Royal Mail.
“Hiding behind the pandemic as a driving factor in failures at Royal Mail does not cut it. Ofcom must start enforcement proceedings to ensure everyone gets a consistent service wherever they are. Otherwise, what’s the point in having a universal service obligation at all?”
Mr Thompson also told MPs that Royal Mail did not use any kind of tracking technology to check delivery rates and to later discipline employees not delivering fast enough.
Later, when presented with evidence showing the data had been used as a performance management tool by some local managers, to track the speed at which postal workers deliver their post and to dissuade staff from stopping during their rounds, Mr Thompson accepted it was sometimes used in disciplinary cases.
“Whether intentionally or inadvertently, Mr Thompson misled the Committee when he first gave evidence by
giving an answer which was not wholly accurate,” the report concludes.
MPs said the practice of tracking postal workers “seems to have been widespread”, not local management failures.
“Either it happened with the direct or indirect approval of management at Royal Mail, or the level of management oversight at Royal Mail has been negligent, in which case we believe it warrants a formal review by the Board,” the report says.
MPs have also asked the Information Commissioner to carry out an inquiry into the use of the workforce data by Royal Mail to find out whether any privacy or personal data rights have been infringed.
Ofcom said: “Royal Mail’s recent performance is clearly well short of where it should be. We… have asked the company to explain what it’s doing to bring service levels back up.
“We measure Royal Mail’s performance against annual delivery targets, from April to March. We’re already preparing to carry out an assessment of its performance after it has reported for the whole financial year, and won’t hesitate to take enforcement action if required.”
Royal Mail insisted it treated letters and parcels with equal importance and was carrying out a review of the application of that policy.
“We have asked the committee to share the material they have received, and reiterate again our request for them to do that at the earliest opportunity so it can help inform that review,” it said.
The company denied it may have misled MPs in its evidence.