Letter to Royal Mail on its Failures in Brighton & Hove

To: Martin Seidenberg

Chief Executive of Royal Mail

20 February 2024


Dear Martin,

As the MP for the Brighton Pavilion constituency I have ongoing and serious concerns that Royal Mail post delays are a significant problem in Brighton and Hove, which has a very real and measurable impact on both residents and businesses in the city.

I have raised my concerns with Royal Mail on multiple occasions, and I have received various replies over the last few years which have failed to reassure me that Royal Mail properly understands the scale of the problem in my constituency, or the impact it has on those reliant on post. Furthermore, the responses I have received do not leave me in any way confident that Royal Mail managers recognise the responsibilities the company has to meet the universal service obligation (USO) it agreed to at the point of privatisation, and that any public service element within Royal Mail has been wilfully neglected in recent years.

I’ve previously received responses from people in PR positions within Royal Mail, but given the serious nature of the service issues in Brighton and Hove I believe that, as Chief Executive, you should be aware of the scale of the post problems in the city, and I would appreciate your direct response. I have set out some specific concerns below.

Royal Mail’s failure to meet its universal service obligation (USO)

In Brighton, Royal Mail has frequently missed its delivery targets, with first class stamped deliveries falling alarmingly to just 44.1% of the 93% target in quarter three in 2022/2023, and hovering just above the 60% mark in the most recent data available online from the 2022/2023 reporting period. As you will be aware, the First Class target Royal Mail needs to achieve under the USO is 93% of First Class mail to be delivered within one working day of collection. This is not happening in my constituency.

The figures in Brighton and Hove are significantly below target, and are in fact considerably below the average delivery times recorded nationally, with Ofcom noting that in 2022/23 Royal Mail achieved just 73.7% of its target. Yet by contrast, I was told in a reply from Royal Mail on the 19 July 2023 that: "on average 98.9% of parcels delivered by Brighton Delivery Office are now successfully getting to customers on the first or second delivery attempt." This simply serves to reinforce the view that Royal Mail is going where the money is, and prioritising parcel deliveries over and above the public service requirements the company has, which the company willingly signed up to at the point of privatisation. This is wrong.

Please would you confirm what immediate steps Royal Mail can and will take to improve deliveries in Brighton and Hove. The woeful level of late deliveries must not continue, and I would like to see a clear plan of action communicated that will address this problem. I am aware of the Ofcom investigation, but my constituents need, and deserve, a more reliable postal service in the here and now, and I am keen for Royal Mail to understand, and accept, the urgency of the situation and to communicate clear improvement plans.

My constituents are experiencing very real problems with post deliveries, including causing them to miss hospital appointments because letters do not turn up on time. The delays are also compounding personal grief and heartache in some instances. For example, one mother who received beautiful letters meant for her adult son but that he never got to see because they arrived after he had died. A bundle of post she received after her son’s death also contained the order of service for his funeral, which had taken place weeks before.

It is not uncommon for me to receive multiple messages each week from constituents experiencing problems with their post. Just in the last week a constituent told me that “No postal deliveries since last week.  Just seen a postman, saying there is chaos at the sorting office and no one to sort it out.” My constituent deserves an answer from Royal Mail to their valid questions.

Postal votes delivery failures 

I am also concerned by the significant increase in late postal votes in Brighton and Hove.

At the local elections in May 2023, the number of postal votes received the day after the election in Brighton and Hove was 1,423, which makes up 4.6% of the postal votes cast.

To provide some context, data published by the Electoral Commission suggests in 2019 the number was just 19 (0.057% of postal votes cast), with further votes arriving late making a total of 145. For the General Election in December 2019, over the three constituencies in the city, data suggests that there were just 17 late postal votes received within 24 hours after the polls closed.

The dramatic rise in late postal votes in May 2023 is alarming and suggests a significant problem. Following a freedom of information request I made to Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC), I have now seen the response that Royal Mail sent to their Chief Executive following an “investigation” into the matter.

In the letter sent to Royal Mail from BHCC, Chief Executive, Will Tuckley states that:

“We had spoken with a Royal Mail operative on the evening of Thursday 4 May who confirmed that a small number of postal voting packs (60) had been swept and were available for collection from Gatwick Mail Centre. To receive 1,423 postal voting packs the following day indicates that the Hove office were holding significant numbers of packs and had not prioritised delivering them as they should have.”

I am further alarmed by Royal Mail’s lacklustre response to BHCC following its “investigation” of what went wrong with postal vote deliveries, which appears to have consisted of speaking to staff and drawing blanks as to what could possibly have resulted in so many late votes. I have attached a full copy of Royal Mail’s response, but I am not reassured by the fact that the response states:

“So having investigated our entire pipeline at no point have we been able to identify a potential hold up of any mail in the pipeline.”

The figures alone suggest there was a problem with postal vote deliveries, and there is zero information in Royal Mail’s response about what the company will do to prevent the same situation arising again. This needs to be communicated.

It is not about the outcome of the election itself, simply that voters need to have confidence in the voting system. With nearly 5% of postal votes being cast in the city not being counted in May 2023, Royal Mail’s failure to deliver postal votes on time has the potential to erode confidence in the postal voting process, and impact on people’s democratic right to vote and have a say in elections.

I would like clear information about what Royal Mail will do to ensure that robust processes will be in place to ensure that the issues in May 2023 will not reoccur at future elections in the city.

If votes were not counted, post delays have the potential to impact on our democratic processes. Irrespective of who votes were cast for, it is the principle of postal votes not being counted which is of importance.

Staff conditions and Royal Mail’s neglect if the North Road site

I visited the Royal Mail’s North Road delivery office in November. I’ve previously been told by Royal Mail that one issue impacting on deliveries in the city is the constraints of the building. Yet during my visit I was quite horrified by the way in which Royal Mail has left the vast building fall into disrepair, something which has happened over a considerable period of time, and could have been prevented. It was plain to see that Royal Mail has failed to invest in the building for many years.

The disrepair means that water frequently comes through the ceiling in bad weather, and this can, and does, have implications on electrical safety due to water dripping through fittings. Furthermore, the vast basement, which used to be in constant use, has not been used for the past year because of significant flooding, and also due to a lift being “condemned”.

I am also alarmed that Royal Mail does not use the three floors above ground level. For a company complaining about nosediving profits, I cannot fathom why Royal Mail has allowed this valuable office space in the centre of Brighton to sit empty, which I believe has been the case for a decade or more. From the outside looking in, it appears that Royal Mail’s interest is only in the land value the North Road site may bring at some point in the future when and if sold, rather than investing in the people working in the building by addressing the disrepair and providing a healthier, and more welcoming working environment.

Bosses say that they struggle to recruit and retain staff, but it’s little wonder when there’s not much evidence of them being properly valued by Royal Mail, who allow them to work from a building which is sad and tired at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. The lack of investment in the North Road site to prevent it falling into disrepair and making large sections of the being unusable, is nothing short of scandalous.

I am aware that Royal Mail’s answer is simply to relocate to a new delivery office, but having witnessed the neglect of the North Road site I have zero confidence that Royal Mail looks after its assets, and it is therefore concerning that the company is setting its sights on relocating to an environmentally sensitive site in the north of my constituency.

Please would you provide an explanation for the decade or longer neglect of the North Road site. In the short term there are steps Royal Mail could make to create a more welcoming working environment, such as a consistently working coffee machine (it was out of order during my visit).

I would also like an explanation for why Royal Mail has left empty three floors of office space above the delivery office for many, many, years.

Relocation to Patcham Court Farm

Finally, I am keen to get your view on Royal Mail’s plans to relocate to Patcham Court Farm, an environmentally sensitive site in the north of my constituency.

I set out my objections to Royal Mail’s proposals in my submission to the Local Planning Authority, which can be viewed here. As mentioned, Royal Mail’s neglect of the North Road site only serves to exacerbate my concerns that this location is too sensitive to allow a company with a track record for not maintaining its assets, and one which fails to meet its targets and legal obligations under the universal service obligation, to take ownership of and operate from.

I recognise that there are legitimate constraints in the delivery yard at the North Road site, but from the evidence I have seen, all other constraints in the North Road site are of Royal Mail’s own making, and they are attributable to Royal Mail’s neglect of the building rendering much of it unusable.

With Highways England repeatedly not giving Royal Mail sign off because of issues with access and the transport plans put forward, and with more than 1,000 people submitting objections opposing the application, I ask Royal Mail to reconsiders its position altogether, and starts looking into a plan b.

I am aware that staff at the North Road site may support a move to a new location, but I find this hardly surprising given the current working conditions Royal Mail allows them to work in, which should never have been allowed to fall into such shocking disrepair. Patcham Court Farm is not the right location, I urge you to scarp the plans and look for alternative solutions.

I would like to add that, from my conversations with postal workers on the ground, it’s clear that they care enormously about the work they do. They also have many frustrations about issues which impact on their ability to do their job. The excellent work of posties on the ground is also echoed in the correspondence I receive from constituents, whose concerns are about the broader issues filtering down and exacerbating delivery delays in the city, which is a problem evidenced elsewhere in the country.

I look forward to hearing from you on this important issue, and I hope you have the courtesy to reply with greater transparency and recognition of the impact the dire situation is having on my constituents than the responses I have received from Royal Mail to date.

Yours sincerely,

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