'Severe deterioration' in postal service in Leighton Buzzard and Linslade prompts MP to seek further assurances from Royal Mail bosses
A high absence rate among Royal Mail staff is being blamed for the "very severe deterioration" in the postal service in the Leighton Buzzard area, according to the town's MP.
In the weeks leading up to the New Year, residents have been starved of post prompting South Weds Beds MP, Andrew Selous, to seek assurances from Royal Mail's chief executive that urgent improvements would be seen.
One resident, Paul Brown, of Mentmore Road, Linslade, told the LBO that his last three postal deliveries had been December 11, December 22 and December 30 and said Royal Mail owed the public an explanation.
He said: "I received 43 items of post this morning, Wednesday, December 30, of which all but five were Christmas cards. Although many were unfranked the earliest posting date on a card was December 9. Most seemed to have been posted on December 14, including two local ones.
"One posted in Leighton Buzzard took 16 days to travel one mile to Linslade across the River Ouzel. One from Heath and Reach also took 16 days. They talk about snail mail but a snail would put Royal Mail to shame.
"Since this morning I have had a second post with another 17 letters and cards, making a total of 60 in a day - all of which should have arrived well before Christmas. It reminds me of the old joke about buses.
"Before today my last post was on December 22, when I received eight Christmas cards and two letters unconnected with the season. Until December 11 when all mail stopped the service had appeared to be normal although on some days there was a lot of post and others none.
"Clearly they have had a serious problem of being overwhelmed which suggests a Covid crisis at the Post Office. This might be a reasonable excuse for the delay but I think they owe the public an explanation and they should have notified people of the fact their Christmas cards and presumably presents would be late. Many people must have been disappointed and isolated as a result.
"I believe we should be told why and can we any longer trust the post? The NHS uses the post to cancel and affirm appointments, but the post can no longer be trusted. Attempts to ring the sorting office to ask for an explanation have proved fruitless. A recorded message tells you it will take up to 50 minutes waiting time for an operative to take your call. Life is too short!"
Upon hearing of Mr Brown's woes, Mr Selous told the LBO it was one of a number of stories he had heard from disgruntled constituents.
He said: "Following complaints from Linslade residents about a very disrupted Christmas postal service I wrote to the Chief Executive of Royal Mail before Christmas and received a reply on December. 30.
"I am a great admirer of our postmen and postwomen who generally give us a superb service throughout the year. Other than this year because of the pandemic, I have visited the delivery offices in Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable every year before Christmas for the last 19 years to thank the staff for the service they give us.
"Royal Mail have told me that there was a 44% absence rate because of Covid and for other reasons on the 24th of December at the Leighton Buzzard delivery office. I have asked how this compares with other delivery offices and whether further steps can be taken to make it a more Covid secure workplace.
"Contrary to some recent allegations, Royal Mail have taken on 33,000 extra temporary staff over Christmas and I have asked how many of these were working in the Leighton Buzzard delivery office and whether any steps were taken to increase this number because of the very high level of staff absence."
But he added: "What concerns me most about Royal Mail’s reply is that they claimed that on Christmas Eve deliveries were taking place in Linslade at least every other day. One Linslade resident [Mr Brown] has reported however that his last three postal deliveries were on December 11, 22, and 30. On the 30th he received 60 items of post. One of the letters was postmarked with a posting date of December 9. Some letters posted within the town or from Heath and Reach had taken 16 days to arrive.
"It does not appear that senior Royal Mail management are aware of the very severe deterioration in the service which has caused upset and disappointment to a lot of local people. I have therefore gone back to Royal Mail to ask for further explanations and for assurances that urgent improvements will be put in place straight away, including the retention of extra temporary staff beyond the Christmas and New Year period if necessary."
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Royal Mail received exceptionally high volumes of parcels ahead of the festive period. We have been working hard to process this unprecedented increase of parcels into our network. Following an outstanding effort from our people, the majority of the Royal Mail network is now running as usual in line with this seasonal peak in demand.
“Ahead of the Christmas peak we hired around 33,000 temporary workers to support our 115,000 permanent postmen and women. Temporary staff, many of whom return year after year, are helping to sort parcels, cards and letters at sites across the UK. For the past ten years, Royal Mail has opened a network of temporary parcel sort centres to handle additional Christmas volumes.
"This year, Royal Mail expanded its portfolio of seasonal sites to help manage the anticipated growth in parcel volumes. Eight centres have been opened, including two additional sites in Northampton and Milton Keynes. We also launched a campaign to remind our customers to shop early and post early for Christmas.
“The combination of greatly increased uptake of online Christmas shopping, in no small part driven by the recent lockdown, and the ongoing COVID restrictions mean that all delivery companies are experiencing exceptionally high volumes this year.
"Throughout the pandemic, every decision we make puts the health of our people and customers first. From the start, we have always said that despite our best endeavours, it is possible that some areas of the country may experience a reduction in service levels due to COVID-related absences and necessary social distancing measures at local mail centres and delivery offices. Every single parcel, letter and card is important to us.
"We remain grateful to all our customers for their patience and understanding as our dedicated workforce work hard to deliver these exceptional volumes, whilst also adhering to necessary social distancing measures. Our amazing postmen and postwomen, who have kept the UK connected throughout the pandemic and two lockdowns, are doing everything necessary to get letters and parcels to everyone over the festive period.”
> What's your view on the situation, could Royal Mail have done more, or do you have a postie who deserved special praise? Email [email protected]