Residents across many parts of Dulwich and West Norwood have reported significant problems with postal deliveries since last year. Although there have been problems in the East Dulwich SE22 postcode area since Royal Mail closed the SE22 delivery office on Silvester Road two years ago, these problems have worsened even further since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Since late 2020, residents in SE19 and SE27 have also experienced serious delays, with some problems in other postcode areas too.
I have been in constant communication with Royal Mail about these problems and it is very disappointing that they are still unresolved. I am clear that the problems are not the fault of postal workers, who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, and have been a vital lifeline for many people. It is very concerning to hear that many postal workers have fallen ill with coronavirus and that sickness rates at Royal Mail have been very high. I am grateful to every single postal worker for their vital work at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. Notwithstanding the hard work and commitment of postal workers, there are serious problems at Royal Mail.
In recent years, Royal Mail have closed many local delivery offices. In East Dulwich, the Silvester Road delivery office closed in 2018. The local ward councillors and I warned at that time that moving delivery services to Highshore Road in Peckham would create huge problems. Highshore Road is a long way from the furthest parts of SE22 and the topography in this area is challenging. We campaigned vigorously for Royal Mail to open a new fit for purpose delivery office in the SE22 area, but they refused.
There was chaos from the start, with particularly problems around the peak Christmas period in 2018, and at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, it was clear that cramming two postcode delivery areas into the same office at Highshore Road left Royal Mail with no capacity to adapt to the pressures of the pandemic. It was impossible to keep up the same rate of mail sorting whilst also maintaining social distancing for safe working, and the long distance from Highshore Road to parts of East Dulwich has left postal workers dependent on vans, which cannot be shared safely by two workers during the pandemic.
The consequences of these problems have been very serious. I have been contacted by constituents who have missed urgent hospital appointments – or turned up for appointments which had been cancelled due to the pandemic, because they haven’t received letters. Other constituents have not received relatives’ death certificates or important legal documents, and over Christmas when so many people were isolated from loved ones, cherished cards and gifts were not received on time.
While Royal Mail respond to my individual queries on behalf of residents, they have never acknowledged the seriousness of the problems in SE22, SE27 and SE19, and they have not put in place a plan for recovery. Staff tell me that Royal Mail is refusing to pay overtime to postal workers who are willing to work to help clear backlogs, and they have refused to secure temporary premises to enable more mail to be sorted with safe social distancing in place.
After many months of corresponding with Royal Mail without any resolution, I have now referred these issues to Ofcom the communications service regulator. I have secured a meeting with Ofcom which local ward councillors will also attend. We will be making the case that Ofcom must hold Royal Mail to account for the ways in which they are failing customers in Dulwich and West Norwood and must require them to put in place a recovery plan to restore the reliability of our postal services. In the longer term, I am clear that delivering a profit to shareholders is not compatible with delivering the Universal Service Obligation, and Royal Mail should be brought back into public ownership.