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Alex B Cann column: Is putting pen to paper a lost art?

I've still not got round to watching Mr Bates Vs The Post Office on ITVX, but it's definitely on my list. With wrangling continuing over the amount of compensation being offered to the victims of this huge IT scandal, the BBC's Panorama turned its spotlight this week on Royal Mail, the company responsible for the delivery of parcels and letters across the UK.

It's fair to say not many of us write letters to our friends these days, although I got a lovely letter last week from a Tameside Radio listener who has relocated from Ashton to France, and likes to tune in to keep in touch with what's going on. It means an awful lot that someone has put pen to paper and sent me their thoughts via an old-fashioned letter, but a little bit like the DVDs I still get in the post via Cinema Paradiso, it's something that is sadly on the wane as time marches on.

Panorama examined why so many of our first class post is not being delivered the next day, in accordance with the Royal Mail's targets, and also looked at the ramifications of this. One case study looked at Jasmine Moulton's family. Her children have complex medical conditions, and missed a number of NHS appointments, as the letters either arrived late or not at all. One of her kids even missed an operation.

Jasmine told the show: "It's just so frustrating....it stresses me out every day because I just think, how many other appointments have we missed?". Royal Mail said it was not acceptable that the NHS letters failed to arrive, and apologised to the family.

One statistic that jumped out from the show is that in 17 postcode areas between June and September 2023, more than a third of first class post was late. Just before Christmas, Royal Mail copped for a whopping fine of £5.6 million for failing to hit its targets.

The Government insists that letters should still be delivered six days a week, but would dropping the Saturday obligation be one option to speed things up on other days? The Universal Service Obligation ties Royal Mail to targets that they are struggling to meet, and the programme showed the real-life consequences of missing vital letters.

It seems on the few occasions I've exceeded the 30mph speed limit and been clocked by a mobile speed camera in the past, those letters never got held up. In every case, it plopped onto the door mat within a few days, nowhere near the 14 days that police forces have to issue them. I drive in a far more sedate fashion these days, and although my speed awareness course during the pandemic was actually quite interesting, I have no desire to attend another one!

Ofcom investigated the issue of parcels being prioritised over letters last year, and found no evidence of it happening across the Royal Mail. They did conclude management at delivery offices was, in many cases, lacking. Anecdotally, it's seems it's a bit of a postcode lottery how quickly letters arrive in different areas. Clearly, the current system is not working as well as it should be.

Royal Mail lost £419 million last year, and something has to change. Should their targets be made less stringent, or should we move to letters being delivered every other day? I don't have the answers, but this Panorama show was certainly an eye opener.

I reckon I'm going to start sending a letter to a friend at least once a week, just as an experiment to see how long they take to be delivered. I might use second class stamps though. I'm not minted.

I remember the days before social media when I started presenting radio shows. If someone thought you were a bit rubbish, writing to you was their main option to impart their critical thoughts. It was either that or a fax. I once gave out the fax number on a radio station in Harrogate and was quite excited when it almost immediately started spitting out a missive that had been sent to me. Unfortunately, it was an angrily scribbled note detailing all the reasons why a particular listener didn't enjoy my show. It was trolling before that word even existed!

Anyway, if you do wish to write to me, our address is Tameside Radio, Cavendish Mill, Bank Street Entrance, Cavendish Street, Ashton OL6 7DN. I'd love to get some post. Just don't write to me if you're cross.

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