Royal Mail sale: Rural charges under scrutiny

Retailers will be discouraged from imposing hidden charges for post to rural areas. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Retailers will be discouraged from imposing hidden charges for post to rural areas. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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MINISTERS have agreed to hold a summit with retailers to end the practice of imposing hidden surcharges on deliveries to parts of the UK, including the Highlands and Islands, which are deemed as too remote.

The pledge came after Lib Dem West Aberdeenshire MP Sir Robert Smith had a private members bill debated in the Commons yesterday which, if it succeeded, would have banned extra charges and seen firms fined for imposing them.

The bill was tabled amid concerns the privatisation of Royal Mail in the next few weeks will lead to the end of the universal service guarantee and see higher prices for remote areas.

While Lib Dem business minister Jo Swinson disagreed with imposing fines and banning extra charges, she said the government “accepts the principles behind the bill”. She pledged to hold a summit with retailers to discuss how charges could be fairer and more transparent.

She said: “People living in rural areas may be used to the fact that delivery is not as straightforward.

“If you live on an island you know that if anything is to get onto the island, it has to be flown in or come in on the ferry and that can have an impact on costs.

“If you are living in the suburbs of Aberdeen, you’re not expecting to be hit by massive delivery charges when you are by no definition living in a remote area.

“So I very much support the principles of clarity, transparency and fairness for consumers that lie behind the bill that you have brought forward today.”

After the debate, which saw the bill fail by being talked out by Tory MPs and Ms Swinson – meaning it did not come to a vote – Sir Robert welcomed the commitment to a summit.

He said: “I’m pleased that the debate has put the spotlight on the need for retailers to address this issue and I welcome the minister’s commitment to a summit with retailers. I will continue to campaign to end these excessive and unfair surcharges.”

His proposal received backing from Labour. Shadow business minister Ian Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, voiced Labour’s support for the Bill and said it was in businesses’ interests to be more transparent about costs.

He said: “Retailers and parcel operators should ensure that pricing mechanisms do not arbitrarily surcharge customers because they live in a particular area.”

Several Tory backbenchers opposed the Bill, arguing that competition on the open market would stop extra charges.


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