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Sorting office closures spark 'serious' concern over postal practices in north-west Sutherland

By Niall Harkiss

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Reports of "unacceptable" and "uncaring" work practices for postal workers have sparked public concern, the chairwoman of a north-west Sutherland community council has claimed.

Eileen Bryant, who heads up Melvich Community Council, wrote to Royal Mail citing "serious concerns" from members of the public, who claim to have seen postal workers being forced to sort mail in public places.

Royal Mail
Royal Mail


Sub-postmasters learned in October that sorting offices at Bettyhill, Melvich and Skerray sub-post offices would be closed.

Operations have since been moved to Thurso, with Royal Mail claiming that offices such as those at Bettyhill and Melvich, were "quite small" and "not as good as they could be" for its employees.

Ms Bryant believes the reduction in service is making the job much harder for postal workers, and could also be putting small Post Offices in the region under threat.

In a letter to the mail service, she wrote: "Following the dreadful decision taken by Royal Mail to close many rural sorting offices, threatening the viability of many small Post Offices, we really did think that there would still be some respect shown to the local population, but that looks in serious doubt.

"Local people have watched Royal Mail employees sorting mail in a public car park, parcels and letters sitting on the ground before being passed from one van to another. This is totally unacceptable behaviour, and brings the integrity of the service into doubt."

A Royal Mail spokesperson told the Northern Times: "For a better working environment and to make our service more effective, we (have moved) the service to Thurso Delivery Office where we’ve made a significant investment.

"Customers should not expect a change in their level of service. We will be continuing to deliver to the area throughout the week."

Bettyhill Post Office and General Stores
Bettyhill Post Office and General Stores

A spokesperson added: “There are and never have been any plans for postmen and women to be sorting mail in any car park or public space. What may have been seen is posties moving pre-sorted mail from one van to another, that has always happened in the area and does so throughout the UK.”

But the Melvich CC chairwoman has slammed the Royal Mail response as "flannel", citing "uncaring work practices" and a lack of facilities for postal workers.

Ms Bryant added: "Postmen and women are expected to rely on public toilets when out on their runs. Good luck with that when the tourist season is in full swing, and many toilets have to be closed because of misuse.

"What was seen was not simply moving pre-sorted mail – it was parcels and mail on the ground, in an unsecured public place. In my opinion, its a load of flannel from Royal Mail. This is an example of the uncaring work practices that happen when a service that should be public-owned is privatised, and the people are disregarded.

"If Royal Mail thought the facilities needed improving, why did they not do something about that?"

Jamie Stone MP believes the closure of sorting offices could lead to post being damaged or stolen.
Jamie Stone MP believes the closure of sorting offices could lead to post being damaged or stolen.

MP Jamie Stone, who secured a Westminster Hall debate on the sustainability of rural post offices last October, said: "Despite Royal Mail denying that mail is ever being sorted outside, it is quite concerning that I have had several constituents report the opposite to me.

"I warned the government about the closure of Scale Payment Delivery Offices (SPDOs) way back in October last year for fear of this very situation. If there is no dedicated indoor space to sort mail, it not only means that post is more vulnerable to damage or theft, but it also means that posties are denied a safe place to work, eat, and use the toilet facilities. It's not on.

"I hope that Royal Mail take a second look at the situation in Melvich and enact the necessary action to ensure that both our parcels and posties are being handled well."

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