19th APRIL 1994. The Post Office HQ at Old Street.
On the 19th of April I went up to London by train on a Royal Mail rail warrant. This was to attend Royal Mail’s first employee forum at their headquarters at Old Street, EC. Here is the report I wrote at the time.
The Delegates. Eight postmen and line managers from across the country – for example a rural postman from Radnorshire and an acting office manager from Exeter – took part. The initial gathering was hosted by Graham Harvey, the editor of the Courier, the Post Office newspaper. Managing Director Peter Howarth was present for the main discussion only. There were no female delegates, no women having come forward with questions.
The Meeting. The delegates arrived at 12.15 p.m. The meeting was preceded by an informal discussion over lunch. This was off the record, and served several useful purposes. The delegates got to know each other a little, and we clarified who was going to ask what. It was a fairly talkative group of people, and this discussion could easily have gone on all afternoon. Mr Harvey also found it a useful part of the day, or so he said, and I am sure he wasn’t just being polite. The formal part of the meeting was held in the boardroom, where we were introduced to Peter Howarth. The meeting began at 2 p.m. with my question on morale. There will be a report in the next edition of the Courier, and I will just mention a few points which seemed to me to be particularly relevant. On the question of morale, Mr Howarth stressed the importance of good communication for boosting morale. I pointed out how much postmen valued personal contact with managers at any level.
The question of training was also raised, particularly in respect of the introduction of the new priority services. Apparently a budget of “several million pounds” was allocated to training, but the consensus was that the actual training of postmen was minimal. Since the theme of the meeting was “beating the competition” the M.D. gave a brief outline of the competition we were facing, how we can meet it under present legislation, and the possibilities that would be open to the business if these constraints were removed. Several delegates raised the possibility of more vigorous marketing, and the role that delivery officers could play in this. Here I wasd able to raise again the points for which I won the most recent Courier Innovations which are more fully detailed on the back page of the Courier for March 1994. Other points raised concerned the utilisation of assets, the problems of functionalisation and sickness procedure. The meeting ended on a lighter note with a question of what it was like to be Managing Director of Royal Mail.
Summary. We covered a lot of ground, and could have covered a lot more if time had allowed. Some details will be improved next time (we were told) – for instance seating arrangements, as some delegates felt they were placed on the edge of the discussion. Personally I found it a rewarding and useful experience – I like to know what is going on. However, the business will only benefit if this experience can be more widely shared. Obviously, only a small number of employees will be lucky enough to participate in the national forum, but I understand that local forums are planned. This will enable many more people to share in this initiative.
2014. Retrospective. I was impressed by the portraits that lined the walls of the HQ in Old Streett. These were of the Postmasters General who ran the English Postal Service from 1517 until the position was abolished by Tony Benn in 1969. Unfortunately (but understandably for such an important collection) these portraits were only reproductions. They were in black and white which was not necessary however.
The lunch was a nicely presented salad; this was the first occasion that had been served radishes cut into intricate shapes like thistle heads.
If Royal Mail were still running employee forums in 2013 I would expect them to be more pro-active in seeking out the opinions of female employees. But the privatised Royal Mail does not appear to be interested in seeking the opinions of the staff any more, whatever their gender, and I think such forums are no more.
Graham Harvey died in London on June 12th 2007 aged only 54. Peter Howarth died in Cheshire on the 5th January 2012. Bill Cockburn however, the managing director of Royal Mail when I started as a postman and the predecessor of Peter Howarth is still going strong having reached the age of 70 in 2013. .
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST