Did Simon Thompson mislead Parliament? Pressure grows on Royal Mail boss

Postal, Royal Mail Group (EMP)

House of Commons Select Committee demands evidential letter ‘with sufficient details’ to back up CEO’s denials of wilful USO failure…

Pressure was growing on Mr Thompson today, following his much-criticised appearance in front of yesterday’s Westminster’s Business, Enterprise & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, at which he was warned that he may be summoned back for further questioning amid allegations that the company is deliberately disregarding its statutory universal service obligations.

It was quite astonishing to hear the most senior person in charge of a prestigious 507-year-old company such as Royal Mail, giving such unsatisfactory responses that the Select Committee Chair felt the need to warn him about “misleading Parliament.” And it was of particular concern that the subject which caused the most controversy was the operation of the USO. In marked contrast, Committee members and those watching saw and heard our own general secretary Dave Ward talking straight as always and making the positive case for protecting and strengthening this great company and the universal service that our members provide.

As Dave quite rightly said in his statement to the Committee, we remain fully committed to a negotiated agreement, but it must protect this industry, our members who provide this vital service and of course the Great British public whom we serve.

Thompson under pressure from all sides…

Giving evidence to the MPs on the UK’s postal service, the current dispute and the future of the industry, the Royal Mail boss rejected Conservative MP Ruth Edwards’s concerns over reports of parcels being prioritised over letters, telling the Member for Rushcliffe: “No that’s absolutely not true. Our policy is very very clear. Letters and parcels are equal.”

When Committee Chair Darren Jones (Labour, Bristol North West) produced a poster sent to him by a postal worker, that had been on display at a Royal Mail workplace “just last week” containing clear operational instructions to prioritise parcels over letters Mr Thompson said that he was aware of the poster, that it had only happened at one workplace and that this had been resolved. But Ms Edwards said that she had received reports of parcel-prioritisation from “postal workers across the country” and asked the CEO: “Why have so many of them been told something different to what is official Royal Mail policy?”

Mr Thompson repeated his earlier claim that company policy was to treat both items of mail equally and, when Ms Edwards cited research by Citizens’ Advice indicating that “customers are far more likely to experience delays to letters than parcels,” he said that he “did not believe” that Royal Mail’s internal data would bear that out and offered to provide this information in writing to the Committee.

“I think this Committee would like to see that information,” replied the Rushcliffe MP and then Mr Jones, from the Chair, confirmed this, saying: “You’re going to need to write to us afterwards with sufficient details” and warning: “I’d remind you Mr Thompson, that misleading Parliament is not something we appreciate on this Committee.”

Other MPs on the Committee put a range of other questions to the Royal Mail boss. Ian Lavery (Lab, Wansbeck) and Andy McDonald (Lab, Middlesbrough) grilled him about the Pathway to Change agreement, job security and changes to sick pay policy, and asked him about his own salary, whether he felt he deserved the £140,000 bonus he had received and if it had been right to hand out £567 million in dividends to shareholders. Jane Hunt (Con, Loughborough) and Mark Pawsey (Con, Rugby & Bulkington) quizzed him respectively on the agreement reached with the Unite union and on whether the workforce fully appreciated today’s competitive parcels sector.

In thanking Mr Thompson for his attendance, Committee Chair Darren Jones said that he may be summoned back again and he also expressed a degree of frustration at some of the CEO’s replies, saying: “I’ve not been very pleased with your answers today. It’s really important that you answer questions clearly and, might I say, as honestly as possible, because your performance gives us grave concern about the narrative you’ve provided today on many of my questions, including when there’s clear evidence to the contrary.

“You’ve suggested that what we’ve been told, and that what the evidence suggests, isn’t true. Something has to be true and I’m not sure what that is.”

Dave Ward tells it straight…

Earlier, our general secretary Dave Ward had also appeared before the Committee, opening with a statement updating MPs on the dispute, which he summed up, from the union’s perspective, as “a fight for every postal worker’s job, a fight for the future of this service and for the USO.”

Dave told them that strike action had paused at this time and that there were negotiations currently taking place, which he remained hopeful would achieve a resolution, but also that the union was starting the process of organising another statutory strike ballot – because the mandates from the 2022 Royal Mail members’ ballots would soon expire under current legislation.

The issue was not one of being against modernisation, he insisted, pointing out that the union and the business already have had a change agreement – Pathway to Change – and that it was Royal Mail’s move away from that agreement which provoked the ‘change’ aspect of the current dispute. Accusing the company’s leadership of “waging war on the workforce” and of wanting to “force people out to replace them with new entrants on 20 per cent lower pay, terms and conditions,” our general secretary critiqued management’s agenda, and warned that its present perspectives would shrink Royal Mail’s infrastructure and put the universal service in jeopardy.

In the questions from MPs, Ian Lavery asked Dave what the barriers to a resolution were, while Andy McDonald wanted to know more about the Pathway to Change agreement and the reasons why the business had moved away from it – asking whether the speculation around a potential takeover could be a significant factor here. Mark Pawsey asked where, if the company truly wanted to replace its existing workforce with new, lower-paid workers, would this new workforce come from, given that many sectors are identifying a labour shortage at this time.

Ruth Edwards picked up on Dave’s point about complaints from members of bullying and intimidation and asked for specific examples, to which Dave highlighted the circa 200 reps and members who have been suspended during the dispute, as well as the company propaganda against the workforce across various media. She also asked about postal worker Constituents of hers who had expressed concerns about the re-organisations of their delivery routes.

As well as taking on board the questions and points of view regarding the dispute, Dave also set out some of the key points from the union’s visions for the future. He explained some of the areas where the CWU wants to be working together with Royal Mail in growing the business and in developing new products and services – this would be true modernisation, he told the MPs.

But this has to be on the basis of an acceptable national agreement which is in the interests of postal workers, our customers and the industry itself.

Watch some clips from yesterday’s Select Committee Session: