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News / Postage charges under threat, MP says

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

ISLES MP and Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael has warned the Royal Mail’s universal service obligation (USO) is under threat.

Carmichael has called on the regulator Ofcom to intervene to ensure remote areas like Shetland receive the same level of service as more populated parts of the country.

He also denied suggestions that last year’s privatisation of the Royal Mail had undermined its ability to deliver post nationwide for the same price.

Meanwhile pro-independence group Yes Shetland repeated its call for the postal service be brought back into public ownership.

The issue came to prominence on Wednesday when Royal Mail chief executive Moya Greene said that private companies were undermining the USO by cherry picking the most lucrative delivery services.

Carmichael said Ofcom could tackle this with new powers to charge a levy to companies for picking off the most profitable routes.

He added that privatisation had been necessary to protect the universal service, after the markets were opened up by Europe, and not London.

“It is not a question of ownership, it is a question of competition, and the cherry picking is not something that has happened overnight,” he said.

“That competition has posed the threat to Royal Mail, and that’s why it was necessary to privatise Royal Mail, because they needed the commercial freedom to take on the other commercially free operators in that market.”

He said now that Ofcom had powers to protect the USO, they should be doing their job.

“That is why we will now be watching closely and applying any pressure that needs to be applied.”

Yes Shetland say that three out of four people in Scotland would approve of Royal Mail being taken back into public ownership.

Chairman Brian Nugent said communities like Shetland would be the first to suffer if the USO was removed.

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“Shetland should have a postal service that meets the needs of our community,” he said.

“Royal Mail should be brought back into public ownership with the universal service obligation in place.’

“The only surprise is how short a time it has taken Royal Mail to try to off load the obligation.

“The privatisation was botched, the company was sold off cheap and it looks like the service level or prices will rise for businesses and ordinary folk who happen to live in remote places.”

But Carmichael pointed out that the Scottish Government, who made a commitment to re-nationalise Royal Mail, had used private firms for the delivery of its white paper on independence.

“The SNP claims to be defending a re-nationalised Royal Mail but we know that these claims are hollow.

“Last year they were forced to admit that they had diverted £24 million from the Royal Mail to private provider TNT.”

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