Pass the parcel

Improved standards of service at lower costs can be achieved by introducing competition – so privatise, privatise, privatise  True or false?  Opinions differ and are often polarised, especially among politicians.

After Railtrack, the listed public company formed to operate the railway infrastructure was forced into administration in 2001, the railways were effectively re=nationalised.  Network Rail is… “ an arm’s-length body [set up to manage Britain’s railway infrastructure within effective regulatory and control frameworks.”  It’s chief accounting officer is the Governor of the Bank of England and in September of this year it was re-classified from the private sector to the public sector.  The key to a cheap, efficient railway is therefore funding not privatisation.

So, can privatisation result in better services at lower cost in other sectors??

The UK postal market has undergone significant changes in recent years. The shift in emphasis from letters to e-mails and an increase in the number of parcels as a result of more online shopping means that postal services are now largely about parcels . Many consumers are not at home to accept delivery of their items, which are often either too large to fit through the letterbox or require a signature on delivery; this brings the issue of delivery convenience to the fore.

Citizens Advice recently published a report on the performance of a number of parcel handling companies.  This report describes some of the routes through the parcel system for consumers as senders and recipients, and discusses some of the pros and cons of each route. It also presents the main findings from an ‘on the ground’ mystery shopping exercise looking at the end-to-end journey of parcels sent and received using one of a variety of parcel operators.

The report compares companies, services and products to identify good and bad practice and suggest improvements to ensure operators put consumers at the heart of the parcel industry.  760 parcel despatches were attempted, resulting in 688 successful despatches and 581 successful receipts. Parcels were sent and received across the UK, and to and from urban, rural and remote areas between 7 May and 8 June 2013.

Services offered by the following companies were sampled.

–                Royal Mail, the UK’s universal postal service provide.

–                Parcelforce, part of Royal Mail Group,

–                myHermes, an online service.

–                Collect+ an online service,

–                ail Boxes Etc. is a delivery service broker

–                Parcel2Go, an online-only delivery broker

‘Sender’ shoppers were asked to send a parcel that was too big to easily go through a standard letter box using the cheapest otion available.  ‘Recipient’ shoppers were instructed to record their experience (including the retrieval of the parcel following unsuccessful delivery on the first attempt)

The full report and a summary can be downloaded at

It recommends that parcel companies should:

  • improve processes and questions for establishing consumers requirements and being more consistent in providing senders with information about the delivery times of their despatches
  • upgrade online systems to make them more user friendly and ensure greater accuracy of communication from website purchase to drop off shop and courier
  • provide shorter timeslots for courier collections and deliveries
  • consistently leave cards displaying clear information about where the package was left, any redelivery options and/or exact address of any pick up point with telephone contact point and
  • take better care of parcels

Competition could well compel companies to adopt these requirements to win customers.  However there is one other recommendation  made in the report which demands regulation, not competiton

  • extend the reach and opening hours of drop-off and pick up points to improve choice particularly
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