Her Majesty’s face: privatized!

stamp

Après une pause dans les privatisations, le gouvernement britannique s’est finalement décidé au sujet de celle de la Royal Mail, la poste nationale. Mais l‘impopularité de la mesure n’a pas pu empêcher l’introduction en bourse de la Royal Mail

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Founded by Henry the VIII, Royal Mail is a state-owned company in the UK and Northern Ireland. It has assured the universal postal service for 497 years. During the last 19 years the government has failed 3 times to privatize it. But now it is settledShares were sold out from the 1st to the 8th October 2013.

Trade unions (such as the Communication Worker’s Union) are already organizing strikes and they have many reasons to be reluctant:

* “Prices will go up”: Royal Mail will have to include VAT to its prices plus shareholders may want to increase prices to have the best possible turnover.

* A UK tradition would disappear: the Royal Mail is an iconic service for UK citizens: the red liveried vehicles, the face of Her Majesty on the stamps, the distinct pillar boxes are strong symbols. But the government has made sure these wouldn’t disappear and passed legislation to protect the Royal Mail’s heritage, and namely ensure that the Monarch’s head will remain on the stamps. The pillar boxes however are expensive and it would not be surprising that the private company, to cut expenses, decide to change the boxes.

pillar box

* UK citizens are attached to the state-owned companies, and when Thatcher privatized several companies in the eighties (British Petroleum, British Steel, British Aerospace or British Telecom), she was accused of “selling off family jewels”. Although sometimes privatizations have good endings: when the Iron Lady turned British Airways into a private company in 1987, she enabled the transformation of a company in deficit into one of the biggest airway companies in Europe.

To avoid strong opposition from the 150,000 Royal Mail employees, the State is ready to give them 10% of the company’s capital for free and the State will keep around 30% of the company!

Contrary to the French mail service, La POSTE, which is a multi-business group, operating not only postal services, but banking and courier services, Royal Mail only provides postal services.  In the UK, Royal Mail and the Post Office are now separate companies with independent Boards. The Post Office provides a range of other postal, government and financial services, which in France are operated by the same company.  Many in the government keep in mind the bitterness of the 1980s wave of privatizations led Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The disastrous consequences of the British railways privatization and other sales “on the cheap” have risen people’s consciousness on the matter and made them think about the profitability of such an action.  While some do not understand the necessity of its privatization, as its benefits have kept increasing in the last few years, others explain that the access to private capital is essential for its modernization, and better adaptation to the changing postal market: Royal Mail expects to modernize its parcel delivery services to compete with UPS and the like.  Indeed, Royal Mail is only following the path of its European counterparts (the Belgium Bpost, the Deutsch Post…).

Laura LENG & Lucie WACK

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