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News / Royal Mail sale fears

CONCERNS are growing that the UK government’s decision to sell off its remaining 30 per cent stake in the Royal Mail could threaten the universal service and force up the price of postage in remote areas like Shetland.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in Westminster on Thursday the government would only go ahead with the sale if they were guaranteed £1.5 billion to help reduce the government deficit.

The initial 70 per cent of the service was sold off by the coalition government under Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable two years ago.

His colleague, northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael, said keeping 30 per cent of the Royal Mail in public ownership was “an important part of the package…to protect the Universal Service Obligation”.

The sell off would require a greater role of the regulator Ofcom to safeguard services, he said.

“It remains the case that the most important protection for the universal service is the power of the regulator Ofcom to charge a levy on private operators who do not deliver to every door in the country as Royal Mail does.

“Given the concerns that were expressed by the Royal Mail chief executive last year I shall be urging ministers to ensure that, before the sale goes ahead, there is a comprehensive review of the powers of the regulator to protect the universal service.”

Meanwhile independent highlands and islands MSP Jean Urquhart said she was “deeply disappointed…but not surprised” by the announcement, predicting it would hit rural areas hard.

“The majority of my constituents live in rural areas and rely on the one-price-goes-anywhere, six day a week service provided by Royal Mail.

“The privatisation that has already taken place has led to substantial price increases across the board and I am very concerned about the impact this will have, especially on my constituents in the Western and Northern Isles, who are already charged astronomical prices by private companies who deliver to these areas.

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“Our public services should be just that, and it is wrong that the government is delivering them into private hands.”

She said the decision had been made by “an out of control, slash, burn and privatise Westminster government”, and said she would support a campaign by the Communication Workers Union to oppose the sale.

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