Gale`s View Extra - Herne Bay Mail Service -  29th June 2011
Let us assume – and it is a very dangerous assumption indeed – that the availability of spare capacity and machinery makes it sensible to sort post and packages destined for Herne Bay and Whitstable in Canterbury.
Let us set aside, for the sake of the argument, the fact that to reach the Canterbury sorting office off Military Road and tucked away behind the City Hall it is necessary, first, to traverse the City from which ever trunk route is taken by lorries and then to negotiate a collection of the worst-designed and most congested roundabouts in Kent.
Let us agree that there is an army of postal workers on the doorstep of the antiquated Canterbury site waiting to pre-sort mail for onward delivery to the coastal towns and villages and that transferring the work from other sorting offices will save Royal Mail such sums of money as to justify the exercise.
Having, for the sake of the argument, agreed all of this then there are certain other issues that need to be addressed.
Letters and packages bound for homes and businesses in Herne Bay and Whitstable will still have to be delivered by the postmen and women of those Towns.  The post will have to reach them in time, one hopes, to be of value to, particularly, the firms that still rely upon the snail-mail service for the delivery of, for example, signed documents and mail-order goods.  Households may be willing to wait for the inevitable gas bill or tax repayment demand but for some an early delivery is the lifeblood of commerce.
So, will there be a fleet of Noddy vans, each containing two “buddy buddy” postpeople, fighting their way through the rush hour traffic from Canterbury to Herne Bay every morning?  And, setting aside the congestion and the fact that the Sturry level crossing will almost certainly cause further delay, how many thousands of miles of carbon emissions will this add to the local environment each week?
Then there is the small matter of undelivered packets.  It is generally accepted, except by those determined to live in the past, that over the past five years the nature of postal traffic has changed dramatically.  Save for Christmas and Birthday cards, some documents and the occasional handwritten postcard or letter, the majority of communications are now sent and received electronically. Conversely, the growth in e-shopping has led to a consequential increase in the number and size of packets being delivered and it is this change, and it is the resulting increase in the weight of postal sacks, that has led to the phasing out of the much-loved bicycle and the increase in the number of vans and the introduction of the “buddy buddy walks” that caused such havoc over last Christmas.
Back to the undelivered packets and the mail that, because the postmen have run out of shift-time, will not be delivered today but will have to be delivered tomorrow.  Will these items all be returned to Canterbury at the cost of yet more road miles, to be held for collection and delivered late on the following day? And will customers then be required to travel by car or bus or bicycle or horse and cart or on walking frames from the Coastal towns to collect from Military Road what is their own property?
One less than sensible suggestion is that postmen should take their vans home with them keeping undelivered items locked inside.  So just how long will it take the criminal fraternity of Herne Bay to realise a Royal Mail van parked at night is likely to contain goodies?
It should surprise nobody to learn that this ill thought through  proposal has been offered by the same  management that, having been given 2010 years of notice of Christmas then chose to introduce a major reorganisation and change in procedures at the very busiest time of the year.  These are the people who, with their forebears and under the  leadership of Allan Leighton and Adam Crozier and on Peter (now Lord) Mandelson`s watch transformed a profit-making organisation into a financial albatross.
It is now public knowledge that a few weeks ago I met, at the House of Commons, with the new Chief Executive of the Royal Mail, Ms. Moya Greene, and that she agreed to personally review the plans to shut the Herne Bay and Whitstable sorting offices in the light of my concerns and the local geography. For that I am grateful.   It was, of course, highly unlikely that the decision to transfer sorting to a central, albeit wholly unsuitable, Canterbury location would be reversed for to do so might generate a flood of “me too” requests for similar reviews of similar proposals.
What is essential, though, is that if we are to obviate the threatened daily and nightly convoy of postvans shuttling between the coast and the City and if we are to facilitate a continued service to business and homes (Note to Ms. Greene: you are running a public service and you want the taxpayer to bail out your pension funds to the tune of many millions of pounds so it might be a good idea to deliver) then a Royal Mail depot on the coast will have to be maintained.  The location that has the best road access (on the Old Thanet Way) and is the most modern, is Herne Bay.
These decisions have been called in and are now to be taken personally by the Chief Executive in what I am told by her team is the only review of its kind that has taken place.  If the wrong decisions are taken, and if as a result we suffer a deterioration of the service or a re-run of the 2010 Christmas chaos then there will be no snow, no junior executives, no extenuating circumstances to blame. It will be Ms Greene`s personal reputation at stake and her head on the block.

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