Ian Senior has been a persistent voice in the campaign to privatise the post office. He began his career as a civil servant with four and a half years at Post Office HQ, latterly as private secretary to the last Assistant Postmaster General, was described as ‘Post Office Economist, Ian Senior’ on Radio Four in November 2008. In a background memorandum, published a year after the 1969 Postal Act was effected, Senior concluded that:
- The change of the PO’s status has simply given the postal service the same monopoly privilege with less accountability than before […] what is needed is the creation of an environment which gives to PO managers not only the freedom to manage with more efficiency, but also the incentive to do so […] to counterbalance the enervating effect of past monopoly […] for it is widely accepted that competition coupled with free consumer choice creates the best environment for productive enterprise.’
This led Senior to argue that the letter monopoly – which had been subsidising less profitable areas of the corporation, including the collection from/delivery to rural areas as part of the USO – was unjustifiable and should be removed, and that the universal tariff for letter delivery should be revised. The rationale behind this was that ‘a newly profitable PO postal service would be able to provide better service for money. The more profitable the service, the more private entrepreneurs would be attracted to offer competing services. The sharper competition would encourage PO managers to tailor existing services to users’ needs and to offer new ones.’
It is compelling to note that Senior’s research was commissioned by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), one of Britain’s oldest think tanks, acknowledged by Margaret Thatcher as having fuelled her programme of economic liberalism. Writing in 1983, again for the IEA, Senior’s call for the abolition of the letter monopoly and the practice of cross-subsidisation was subordinated to a consideration of dividing the Post Office into its component parts and selling them off to the public on the basis that ‘not only is privatisation of the postal service desirable on both theoretical and practical grounds; it may also be essential for the survival of the Post Office as an institution.’ Senior depicts a private sector poised ready to enter the postal services market, with one possible impediment being the rewards generated for the Treasury by a public sector Post Office.
See related page on the Blue State Digital campaign to Keep the Post Public.
- Ian Senior, The Postal Service: Competition or Monopoly? Background Memorandum 3, Institute of Economic Affairs, 1970.
- Sharon Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Green Books, 2002, pp. 80-81.
- Ian Senior, Liberating the Letter: A proposal to privatise the Post Office, Research Monographs 38, Institute of Economic Affairs, 1983.