A NEW CODE of practice which online retailers will be expected to follow has been hailed as a “big step forward in the fight for fairer delivery charges” by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.
But the Scottish Secretary immediately faced stern criticism from independent Highlands and Islands list MSP Jean Urquhart. She claimed that by controversially agreeing to privatise the Royal Mail with their Tory coalition partners, the Lib Dems had placed in jeopardy the entire universal postal service.
Carmichael was speaking after UK business minister and fellow Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson announced a new code for parcel deliveries which is designed to ensure delivery charges for consumers in remote communities are clear.
He said the intention was to ensure businesses do not discriminate against consumers on the basis of location.
The issue of inflated delivery charges has infuriated many a Shetland shopper for several years. More than 25,000 people across Scotland have backed a campaign by Argyll woman Jacky Cooper seeking fairness.
Among legions of examples of exorbitant charges, one Shetland News reader was asked by an Edinburgh deli to pay £30 to post a gift voucher to the islands, while an eBay trader was quoted £45 to deliver a small pack of blank CDs.
Carmichael said: “For too long local people have been unfairly charged extra for delivery. I have been working alongside my colleagues in government to put an end to discriminatory practices and these new guidelines are a big step forward in our fight for fairer delivery charges.
“A few retailers embraced our campaign to give consumers living in remote parts of the UK a fair deal, but many were too slow on the uptake. So now the Liberal Democrats in government have taken action.
“By setting out best practice for online deliveries, which has fairness at its heart, we are helping to weed out discrimination based on location and ensuring that the cost of delivery will be clearly stated before purchase.”
But Urquhart said she felt it was “astounding” for the UK Government to be “making these rules when, actually, in a couple of years’ time we could have no universal service because of what they’ve done”.
She said universal six-days-a-week delivery was only guaranteed for three years, and the privatised Royal Mail was “already saying it’s impossible for them to continue when private companies pick off easy bits and don’t want to deliver to rural areas”.
Urquhart said the unfair charges for places like Shetland were a consequence of breaking up the Post Office and Royal Mail. Since then successive governments had listened to evidence from, amongst others, the Office for Fair Trading, and then “did nothing, absolutely nothing”.
She added: “A change to the universal service… was absolutely guaranteed when they sold off the company [Royal Mail] too cheaply.
“Everything they’re saying now is only relevant if we have a universal service. It’s the core service that is threatened by their actions.”
A Citizens’ Advice Scotland (CAS) report, ‘The Postcode Penalty: The Business Burden’, published in April, recommended that businesses should often use Royal Mail rather than courier services in remote areas.
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