SCOTTISH Royal Mail sorting centres were expecting their busiest 24 hours in the countdown to Christmas yesterday, as the traditional festive frenzy is driven by an internet shopping bonanza.
Scotland’s three Royal Mail centres were predicting more than four times the average daily volume of post with state-of-the-art machines processing millions of items each day.
About an extra 120 staff have been drafted in by Royal Mail for the festive season just to handle parcels ordered from online retail giant Amazon, which opened its largest European warehouse at Dunfermline last November and has another depot at Gourock.
Hundreds of additional seasonal staff have been hired to help regular workers man the centres around the clock since the start of December in a bid to ensure that everything is delivered in time for Christmas.
Speaking yesterday at Edinburgh’s sorting centre in Sighthill, plant manager James Jack said: “Last Monday was our busiest so far, but this will be our busiest week and today is expected to be the busiest day.
“It’s frantic at the moment. It’s always a race to the line to get everything sorted so that by next Monday there’s nothing left here and everything is out.
“Amazon is making a real difference to us, because this is the first year that it has been fully operational [at Dunfermline]. We have about 120 extra staff just for dealing with Amazon orders this festive period.”
In addition to permanent sorting centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, for the past few years the Royal Mail has run three temporary festive hubs across Scotland dealing solely with parcels, at Bathgate, West Lothian, Eurocentral business park in Lanarkshire and Dunfermline, Fife. Staffing this year was increased from about 150 per hub to 200 to cope with rising demand.
But although internet shopping has been driving a surge in packages, the rise of e-cards and the growing cost of stamps has not caused a significant reduction in the number of traditional Christmas cards, Mr Jack said. “We’re still inundated with cards. You’d think with sites like Facebook it might go down, but absolutely not. They are coming through in their millions.”
Five £1 million letter sorting machines have been operating around the clock to help staff process millions of items, scanning special barcodes to divide post by destination.
Victor Duployen, 65, who now works full time at the Edinburgh centre after starting as a seasonal employee in December 2000, is feeding hundreds of envelopes into one of the machines which shoot each card and letter to the correct postcode pigeonhole.
He said: “Christmas hasn’t changed very much. It’s three busy weeks and it’s quite wearying but it’s only once a year so we can cope with it.”
The biggest complaint from workers is people getting postcodes wrong or leaving them off entirely, meaning letters and parcels must be sorted by hand.
As one sorting worker, Stuart Strong, warned yesterday: “The Cayman Islands has the same [basic] postcode as Kirkcaldy, so if people don’t get the postcode right and we don’t catch post in time, it will end up in the wrong part of the world.”
SCOTLAND’S BIG RUSH
There are three permanent sorting centres, in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, plus three temporary bases for handling parcels, at Dunfermline, Bathgate and Eurocentral business park.
The centres handle millions of letters, cards and parcels a day throughout the year. At Edinburgh, which covers the largest geographical area in the UK, about 2.8 million items are processed daily. At Christmas, that number is estimated to double.