OPINION - First class post no more — even the Victorians did it better

 (Daniel Hambury)
(Daniel Hambury)

It was, I suppose, too much to hope that a parcel sent first class last Monday for a birthday on Wednesday would actually arrive on time. But no. The Royal Mail delivered…on the Friday. And this was to that far-off exotic destination of Hay-on-Wye. The idea of first-class post — which now costs nearly a pound for a letter, a hitherto unimaginable sum — is that the things we’re posting should arrive the next day, with some allowances for the Western Isles.

Instead, it’s in the hands of Providence and the sorting office whether the letter or parcel gets to its destination the following day or five days later. Last Monday a publisher sent me a book for review which still hasn’t arrived — that is, from one London address to another. Second-class post, which used to be almost as efficient, is now really a matter of luck. If the object is to bolster the whopping extra charge for guaranteed next-day delivery — previously included in the first-class price — which we’re invited to pay at the post office counter well, I suppose, it’s working. It’s also an infallible means of bolstering the revenues of private courier firms. Curry’s is the latest company to declare that it will be bypassing Royal Mail for Christmas deliveries on the basis that customers would quite like their goods delivered before December 25. But I forgot...they wouldn’t get to anyone on Christmas Eve anyway, because the Communications Workers Union has called a strike for December 23 and 24. I had supported the striking workers and their bid not to be demoted to the gig economy but the sheer malice of leaving us without post on Christmas Eve has nipped that in the bud.

For this is the time when those who had forsaken the Post Office in favour of email get to realise how bad the service has got...because most of us still send Christmas cards or presents. So, welcome to a world where the final date for second-class Christmas deliveries is...December 12, a full fortnight in advance. In Anthony Trollope’s day (you do know he worked for the Post Office?) you could send your card on Christmas Eve to arrive that very day.

How come we lag so far behind the Victorians? The problem is, of course, that they correctly regarded the post as a crucial public service, not a commercial company. The Government doesn’t. But it should. Bah humbug to them.